Friday, 4 December 2020

Ellen or Elliot?

 Some 12 years ago I saw a film Juno, and commented on it: Film Review: Juno and here.  As I observed at the time, as well as its humour, the film shows how an unplanned pregnancy can be viewed in a positive way and explores how all those involved - the parents, the boyfriend and school friends - respond to the situation. If I recall correctly, it includes a scene where Juno leaves an abortion clinic, in effect making the decision to continue her pregnancy. Wikipedia gives a fuller account of the film here.

The title role of Juno was played by Ellen Page, who has now "come out as 'trans'". It is sad to see just how quickly sources such as Wikipedia, for example, are willing to change the casting in their post about the film from "Ellen" to "Elliot". Because the role of Juno in the film is not just a female role; because of the nature of the film's plot, it is an essentially feminine role, too. 

Whilst there is a courtesy in addressing someone now in the way in which they ask to be addressed, without that implying anything other than courtesy towards the person, it will be unfortunate if a retrospective "re-gendering" should in any way overshadow the essentially female casting of a film that pre-dates transition. Whilst I might greet him now as Elliot, in Juno she remains Ellen Page.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

A hazardous "re-tweet"

 On 20th December 2019 Pope Francis visited a school in Rome, and answered questions from the students. Pope Francis' response to two of the students, in the original Italian, is below (there is no English translation on the Vatican website). My partial translation is inserted - I will try to do a full translation when I have more time.

The major part of Pope Francis' first answer is an account of his own experience living as a young person in Argentina, in a natural encounter with other young people of different faiths at school and at home. It was a natural education to co-existence. And it is a situation where an explicit attempt to convert would represent an abuse of the natural friendships of the school and community - this is the proselytism that Pope Francis speaks against. And remember that Pope Francis' words are addressed to young people, in a school, where the same considerations would apply.

The essence of Pope Francis' second answer is that witness is the first step in evangelisation, and it is when witness arouses curiosity that it is then possible to speak explicitly. This is exactly in line with the teaching on the process of evangelisation in n.31 of the recently published Directory for Catechesis.

It is therefore quite scandalous to suggest that Pope Francis opposes or speaks out against the conversion of others to the Catholic faith: Pope Francis: "never try to convince an unbeliever"

DOMANDA – Francesco T.

Salve Santo Padre, io volevo chiederle, quando lei insegnava, che sguardi, che gesti, che pensieri aveva nei confronti di persone di altre credenze religiose, anche? [Holy Father, I want to ask you, when you teach, what look, what signs, what thoughts do you have before people of other religious beliefs?]

DOMANDA - Damiano

Buongiorno Santità, io volevo porle un quesito. Se un ateo venisse da lei e le chiedesse una ragione fondamentale per cominciare a credere che cosa gli risponderebbe? [Good morning, your Holiness, I want to ask you a question. If an atheist comes to you and asks you for one fundamental reason to begin to believe, what would you reply?]

PAPA FRANCESCO:

Andiamo alla tua prima. Quando insegnavo che sguardo e che parole avevo verso i ragazzi credenti o di altre religioni... Ma in Argentina c’è un fenomeno sociale, che è il fenomeno migratorio. Dopo le due grandi guerre ci sono state ondate migratorie dall’Europa, anche dall’Asia minore e gli italiani... Pensa che il 40 per cento degli argentini ha un cognome italiano, quasi l’altro 40 spagnolo. Poi polacchi, russi, tutti... anche arabi, che noi chiamavamo “turchi” perché venivano col passaporto del grande impero ottomano. C’è una mescolanza di sangue, un meticciato forte in Argentina - io sono figlio di un migrante – e questo ha fatto una cultura della convivenza. Io ho fatto la scuola pubblica e sempre avevamo compagni di altre religioni. Siamo stati educati alla convivenza: “C’è un ebreo, ah russo... Vieni, vieni! Io sono amico del russo!”. Dicevano russo perché la maggioranza degli ebrei venivano da Odessa, alcuni dalla Polonia ma la maggioranza da Odessa. Poi c’era qualche arabo, libanese, siriano... “Ah, turco! Vieni, vieni!”. Questo era maomettano, questo era ebreo... Ma tutti insieme giocavamo, al pallone, eravamo amici tutti. Questo a me ha insegnato tanto, che siamo tutti uguali, tutti figli di Dio e questo ti purifica lo sguardo, te lo fa umano. In Argentina c’è un piccolo gruppetto di cattolici troppo chiusi che non vogliono gli ebrei, non vogliono gli islamici ma questo gruppo, almeno a me non è mai piaciuto, è un gruppo che è all’angolo, hanno una rivista culturale ma non hanno incidenza nella società e quando io insegnavo li guardavo com’erano, questo è il segreto. Tu devi essere coerente con la tua fede. Non mi veniva in mente e non deve essere così di dire a un ragazzo o a una ragazza: “Tu sei ebreo, tu sei musulmano: vieni, convertiti!”. [It did not come to my mind, and it should not be like that, to say to a boy or girl: "You are Jewish, you are Muslim: come, be converted!"]Tu sii coerente con la tua fede e quella coerenza è quella che ti farà maturare. [You must be consistent with your faith and that consistency is what will make you mature.] Non siamo nei tempi delle crociate. E’ una cosa brutta ma che a me ha fatto soffrire tanto, un passo della “Chanson de Roland”, quando i cristiani, i crociati avevano vinto i musulmani e poi si faceva una coda di tutti i musulmani e davanti c’era il prete e un soldato. Il prete davanti alla fonte battesimale e tutti venivano - leggete quel passo – egli domandavano: “O il battesimo o la spada”. Questo è successo nella storia! Anche lo fanno con noi cristiani in altre parti anche lo stanno facendo ma quello che è successo da noi a me “vergogna” (fa vergognare) perché è una storia di conversione forzata, di non rispetto della dignità della persona. Per questo la mia esperienza era naturale con le persone di altre religioni perché il mio papà il lavoro del mio papà era ragioniere e lui aveva tanti clienti imprenditori ebrei e venivano a casa, era normale e non ho avuto questo come un problema. Ma deve essere normale. Niente lasciarli da parte perché hanno un’altra fede. E tu. Damiano, che parola userebbe per convincere qualcuno a diventare cristiano...

DAMIANO:

Se chiedesse a lei una ragione fondamentale per cominciare a credere...

PAPA FRANCESCO:

La prima è tutto. Davanti a un non credente l’ultima cosa che devo fare è cercare di convincerlo. Mai. L’ultima cosa che devo fare è parlare. Devo vivere coerente con la mia fede. E sarà la mia testimonianza a risvegliare la curiosità dell’altro che dice: “Ma perché tu fai questo?”. E lì sì posso parlare. Ma senti, mai, mai si porta il vangelo con proselitismo. [Before a non believer the last thing I must do is to try to convince them. Never. The last thing that I must do is to speak. I must live consistently with my faith. And it will be my testimony that will arouse the curiosity of the other who says: "But why do you do this?". And then it is possible to speak. But listen, never, never preach the Gospel with proselytism.] Se qualcuno dice di essere discepolo di Gesù e ti viene col proselitismo, questo non è discepolo di Gesù. Il proselitismo non si fa, la Chiesa non cresce per proselitismo. L’aveva detto Papa Benedetto, cresce per attrazione, per testimonianza. [Proselytism does not work, the Church does not grow by proselytism. As Pope Benedict said, it grows by attraction, by testimony]. Il proselitismo lo fanno le squadre di calcio, questo si può fare, i partiti politici, si può fare lì ma con la fede niente proselitismo. E se qualcuno mi dice: “Ma tu perché?”. Leggi, leggi, leggi il Vangelo, questa è la mia fede. Ma senza pressione. 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Advent: a double expectation

 The two-fold expectation that is characteristic of the Advent season draws our attention to a feature of our Liturgical life as a whole. As we celebrate the Sacraments and life of prayer bestowed on the Church at Christ's first coming, that very celebration is oriented towards Christ's second coming. The Liturgy faces us from the events of one coming towards the event of a second coming; it exists in a kind of "in between". Our Liturgical prayer has a direction: it faces towards the East, that is, towards the dawn, the sign of Jesus coming.

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, 
graciously grant peace in our days,
 that, by the help of your mercy, 
we may be always free from sin 
and safe from all distress, 
as we await the blessed hope 
and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is very easy at Mass to listen to the words of the Preface without really "hearing" them. Participating on line might make us more attentive, and we might then notice how the first Preface for the Advent season captures the two-fold expectation typical of the season:

For he assumed at his first coming 
the lowliness of human flesh, 
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, 
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, 
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty 
and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day  
may inherit the great promise 
in which now we dare to hope.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Red Wednesday

 Today is being marked as "Red Wednesday", an initiative begun by Aid to the Church in Need but now recognised as a global initiative.

The day is intended to draw the attention of people and their governments to the persecution of Christians and other religious believers. Aid to the Church in Need are publishing today their report Set your Captives Free: A Report on Christians unjustly detained for their Faith. It is possible to request a copy of this report here.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Christ the King

 Magnificat has an article by Bishop Hugh Gilbert for the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrate this weekend, at the end of the liturgical year.

The Solemnity of Christ the King has sometimes been called an "idea-feast". It is nothing of the kind. It is the feast of a reality. The reality of Christ's kingship, Christ's kingdom. A bewildering, mysterious reality, even a joke sometimes (at the foot of the cross, for example), and yet more real than any other kingship or kingdom there has ever been. A hidden King, but visible in his sacraments. A king who has come, but is coming again. A kingdom like and unlike, friend and foe to, every other kingdom. A kingdom here and not here, in the world but not of it. The paradoxes are endless....

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that only belonging to the Church sets one free from the degrading slavery of being a child of one's times. And so it is. Affirming, acclaiming this King - You are the Christ, the true King - loosens the clutches of all other competing kingdoms: public opinion, totalitarian governments, market forces, the dogmas of the age, our own addictions, King sin and King death. They all have their day and their sway, but there is something else abroad as well, subverting them all. There is a freedom and a clarity and a kingship of soul in the gift of Jesus the King....

.... surely, we'll find ourselves resolving. We'll find ourselves wanting to live free, with kingship over ourselves, free enough therefore to give ourselves in humble love. Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. That is the kingdom and the kingship of Christ.

Next Sunday it is Advent, and a new liturgical year, a year for hearing St Mark... At the beginning of his Gospel stand the Beatitudes, at the end these works of mercy.... And in the middle comes the acclamation of St Peter, You are the Christ, the messianic King, the Son of God. Let us live what we hear, proud to have Christ as our King.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

What is truth?

 A go to text for the feast of Christ the King is the account of the dialogue of Jesus with Pilate, in Part Two of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet during the interrogation we suddenly arrive at  dramatic moment: Jesus' confession. To Pilate's question: "So you are a king?" he answers: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" (Jn 18:37). Previously Jesus had said: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; by my kingship is not from the world" (18:36).... it is entirely understandable that the pragmatic Pilate asks him "What is truth? (18:38).

Pope Benedict then goes on to explore the meaning of that word "truth". He asks a question that can be placed alongside an observation of Pope Pius XI with regard to the League of Nations and the international efforts for peace in the years immediately after the First World War (italics added to both quotations to draw out the parallel):

Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its space taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?

And Pope Pius XI in his first encyclical letter, written at the end of 1922, when conflict in the near East and the Balkan region was already emerging despite the negotiations and treaties that had followed the conclusion of the First World War:

45. When, therefore, governments and nations follow in all their activities, whether they be national or international, the dictates of conscience grounded in the teachings, precepts, and example of Jesus Christ, and which are binding on each and every individual, then only can we have faith in one another's word and trust in the peaceful solution of the difficulties and controversies which may grow out of differences in point of view or from clash of interests. An attempt in this direction has already and is now being made; its results, however, are almost negligible and, especially so, as far as they can be said to affect those major questions which divide seriously and serve to arouse nations one against the other. No merely human institution of today can be as successful in devising a set of international laws which will be in harmony with world conditions as the Middle Ages were in the possession of that true League of Nations, Christianity. 

Pope Benedict offers a succinct account of Thomas Aquinas teaching on truth: firstly, as the conformity of intellect to reality; secondly, as properly present firstly in God's intellect and derivatively in the human intellect; and finally God as "truth itself, the sovereign and first truth".

... if man lives without truth, life passes him by; ultimately he surrenders the field to whoever is the stronger. "Redemption" in the fullest sense can only consist in the truth becoming recognisable. And it becomes recognisable when God become recognisable. He becomes recognisable in Jesus Christ. 

Which brings us back to the appeal of Pius XI, in Quas Primas, that the world should recognise and obey the rule of Christ the King. 

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Quas Primas and the Source of Civil Authority

 In Pius XI's encyclical Quas Primas, we read:

What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. "With God and Jesus Christ," we said, "excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation."...

If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects.
....When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King... Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. 
And in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can read:

1897 "Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all." By "authority" one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.

1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."

I have added the underlinings in both quotations, as it seems to represent the source of a particular integrist interpretation of the teaching of Quas Primas that is not reflected in the teaching of the Catechism or the section of Gaudium et Spes (nn.73-76) on which the Catechism draws. References for the citations in the extract from the Catechism can be found by following the link to the Catechism above..

The idea that all authority has its (direct) origin in God and, from a Christian point of view, in the person of Christ to whom the Father has entrusted all things, is what gives rise to the notion that that authority can only be rightly exercised in a confessional Catholic state. This contrasts with the suggestion of the Catechism that political authority has a foundation in human nature, distinguished from an authority in the moral order which derives from God. It also contrasts with the teaching of n.76 of Gaudium et Spes that:

The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. 

The resolution of this contrast is found in a subtle formulation of Gaudium et Spes, to which the Catechism refers, and emphasised again by my added italics:

Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one's freedom and sense of responsibility. 
It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.

Where Pius XI uses the language of direct representation of the authority of God in the exercise of authority in public office, Gaudium et Spes instead speaks of a public authority that is exercised within a created order originating from God. The former might be seen as an expression in the order of revelation, while the latter is a like expression in the order of creation.

It is worth appreciating three aspects of context for Pius XI's remarks about the nature of authority in political life. Firstly, Quas Primas has its immediate purpose in establishing, as a celebration in the universal Church, of the liturgical feast of Christ the King, and therefore the relevance of Christ's kingship to the religious life of Catholics. Secondly, the encyclical also has a section that surveys the different places where the Old and New Testaments refer to Christ as a King, or as one who will rule. And thirdly, the discussion of the relationship between the kingship of Christ and authority exercised by civil powers is offered in response to Pius XI's perception of a rejection of Christ by rulers and states of his time (perhaps with a reference to the rise of fascism in Italy and atheistic communism in Russia?).

Though Quas Primas urges that rulers and states should acknowledge in their public life the rule of Christ, this has more the sense of an impulse for evangelisation than an advocacy in favour of a confessional Catholic state. This is particularly seen to be the case if the discussion of civil authority is placed alongside such sections of Quas Primas as the survey of Scriptural texts, which present Christ's kingship in a messianic and eschatological perspective, and its discussion of the feast day in relation to the lives of Catholics themselves.

The penultimate paragraph of Quas Primas provides a useful reflection as we approach the feast of Christ the King this year:

If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.