Tuesday 30 December 2008

Rallying for the family

Other bloggers (here and here) have reported the huge attendance (I am wary of the quoted figure of 1 million, but there certainly seems to have been a good turn out) at a celebration of Mass in the centre of Madrid on the Feast of the Holy Family. This celebration of Catholic faith about the family took place in the context of a secularising government that has legislated in ways that undermine the traditional idea of family and family life.

Here in Romford, our next first Friday (well, second Friday actually) Adoration will be dedicated to the theme of the Sixth World Meeting of Families, taking place in January in Mexico.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor edits "Today"

This morning, the guest editor on BBC Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme, Today, was Cardinal Murphy O'Connor. This page on the Today programme site, summarises the programme, and includes audio clips of the Cardinal's contributions.

I heard part of the programme, and rather enjoyed it. A visit to the English College in Rome, with the story of the seminarians gathering in the chapel before the Martyrs' Picture to sing the Te Deum ... As I listened to this, it occurred to me that, for many people in England and Wales, this would be an almost unknown part of our history.

The programme included a very useful interview, conducted by the Cardinal, with Gordon Brown.

And I was rather amused by the thought of a Cardinal setting off to learn how to cook for himself - at an Italian restaurant, of course - as he approached retirement. I suspect this is a generational thing, as I expect that the younger clergy now have such hectic lives that a fixed meal time in a day, with a meal prepared by a housekeeper, is rare.

I got the impression that Cardinal Murphy O' Connor had enjoyed the experience of conducting the interviews and producing the packages for the programme. I thought the programme was an excellent example of bringing Catholic life to the attention of a wider public, of the encounter between faith and culture. And, as the Cardinal said in his short review video, there was something about it being radio rather than television. What people hear (and so have to give just that bit more attention and engagement to) is a bit special ...

Not that I (not owning a television) am at all biased ...

Do look at the page on the Today programme site!

The Final Message of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: Part 4

Herewith my last set of notes for the series on the Final Message of the Synod. As I indicate in the "Points to Note", I feel that it is important to read this last section in the light of the preceding sections of the Final Message. Without that context, it appears excessively optimistic, particularly in its approach of the Word of God to other religions.

The Final Message Section 4: Scripture and evangelisation

The last section of the Synod Message presents five different ways in which the Sacred Scriptures can be brought into encounter with the contemporary world. [1]

Modern means of communication:

. .. the voice of the divine word must echo even through the radio, the information highway of the internet, the channels of "on line" virtual circulation, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, etc. It must appear on all television and movie screens, in the press, and in cultural and social events.This new communication, in relationship to the traditional one, has created its own specific and expressive grammar and, therefore, makes it necessary not only to be technically prepared, but also culturally prepared for this task. In an age dominated by images put forward, in particular, by hegemonic means of communication such as television, the privileged model of Christ is still meaningful and evocative today. He would turn to the sign, the story, the example, the daily experience, the parable…[2]
The family:

The family, enclosed between the domestic walls with its joys and sufferings, is a fundamental space where the word of God is to be allowed to enter….

Therefore, every home should have its own Bible and safeguard it in a visible and dignified way, to read it and to pray with it …. In particular, the new generations, children and youth, should be the ones receiving an appropriate and specific pedagogy that leads them to experience the fascination of the figure of Christ, opening the door of their mind and their heart, as well as through the encounter with and authentic witness of adults, the positive influence of friends and the great company of the ecclesial community.[3]
The poor:

…the Christian has the mission to announce this divine word of hope, by sharing with the poor and the suffering, through the witness of his faith in the kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, of love and peace, through the loving closeness that neither judges nor condemns, but that sustains, illuminates, comforts and forgives, following the words of Christ: "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28).[4]
Dialogue with other religions and with those of no religious faith:

the divine word generates for us Christians an equally intense encounter with the Jewish people, who are intimately bound through the common recognition and love for the Scripture of the Old Testament and because from Israel "so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ" (Rm 9:5)…. ). We, also as Christians are invited, along the roads of the world - without falling into a syncretism that confuses and humiliates our own spiritual identity, to enter into dialogue with respect towards men and women of the other religions, who faithfully hear and practice the directives of their sacred books, starting with Islam, which welcomes many biblical figures, symbols and themes in its tradition, and which offers the witness of sincere faith in the One, compassionate and merciful God, the Creator of all beings and Judge of humanity.
The Christian also finds common harmony with the great religious traditions of the Orient that teach us, in their Scriptures, respect for life, contemplation, silence, simplicity, renunciation, as occurs in Buddhism. Or, like in Hinduism, they exalt the sense of the sacred, sacrifice, pilgrimage, fasting, and sacred symbols. Or, as in Confucianism, they teach wisdom and family and social values. Even to the traditional religions with their spiritual values expressed in the rites and oral cultures, we would like to pay our cordial attention and engage in a respectful dialogue with them. Also to those who do not believe in God but who endeavour to "do what is right, to love goodness and to walk humbly" (Mi 6:8), we must work with them for a more just and peaceful world, and offer in dialogue our genuine witness to the Word of God that can reveal to them new and higher horizons of truth and love.[5]
The Arts:

The Bible, as it is commonly said, is "the great code" of universal culture: artists ideally dipped their paintbrush in that alphabet coloured by stories, symbols, and figures which are the biblical pages. Musicians composed their harmonies around the sacred texts, especially the Psalms. For centuries authors went back to those old stories that became existential parables;… The Bible should, therefore, be known and studied by all, under this extraordinary profile of beauty and human and cultural fruitfulness…. [The Church] should make the word of God penetrate into the many cultures and express it according to their languages, their concepts, their symbols and their religious traditions. But she should always be able to maintain the genuine substance of its contents, watching over and controlling the risks of degeneration.[6]

This last part of the message needs to be read in the light of the earlier parts, which drew to our attention the following points:

The Word of God (understood as Scripture) refers also to the Word of God (the person of Jesus Christ) - the Word communicates a Person, whom we encounter. The electronic means of communication risk a reduction in the sense of the communication of a Person by the texts of Scripture. It is also interesting to ask how the “sign, story, parable” of Jesus time can be authentically translated into an electronic medium.

The reverencing and praying of the Scriptures within the family seems to give opportunity for respecting the communication of the person of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures. It also respects the nature of the Word of God as being something that is lived in the ecclesial community and not apart from it.

What Catholics would bring to dialogue with other religions is the sense of interpreting Scripture as a whole, its communication of a particular story of creation and salvation history, its being lived and received in the context of the Church. The Synod message rightly warns of the danger of syncretism in this dialogue.

[1] Reading this last section apart from the earlier sections of the message might give an over optimistic view of what is intended. We can usefully remind ourselves of the points already mentioned above, namely, that the Catholic Church approaches Scriptures in a different way than evangelical Christians, that Scripture is an expression of the person of Christ still present in the life of the Church and so not restricted to “the book”, that it expresses a history of salvation, that the Scriptures are seen in their unity.
[2] Final Message of the Synod n.11.
[3] Final Message of the Synod n.12.
[4] Final Message of the Synod n.13.
[5] Final Message of the Synod n.14.
[6] Final Message of the Synod n.15.

Monday 29 December 2008

Logical conclusion? Reflections on virginity and the "language of creation"

One of the more intelligent responses to the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's address to the Curia just before Christmas appears on the "Letters" page of today's Times. Under the heading "Logical conclusion?", it says:

Sir, Surely, in order to be a valid argument, the comments of the Pope regarding homosexuality (report, Dec 23) must also be directed against celibacy.

Horringer, Suffolk

I am not sure that "surely" is, grammatically speaking, a logical connective - it seems more a presumptive or emotional connective - and of course the Pope's words were not directly made regarding homosexuality.

But, this having been said, Canon Pettitt's letter does ask a very good question. Is chosen virginity/celibacy a denial of the "language of creation" with regard to gender and the differences in sexuality associated with differences in gender?

Traditionally, the Church has expressed its commitment to virginity/celibacy in priestly and religious life in nuptial terms. The language is that of a preferential love for God, of marriage at a spiritual level. One of the most striking photographs of St Edith Stein is one taken on the day of her clothing as a Carmelite nun - when, as was the custom at the time, she wore a wedding dress. So, in chosen virginity/celibacy the "language of the body" with regard to gender is assumed or integrated into a "language of the spirit", rather than its being denied. What Pope Benedict referred to as a "language of creation" is expressed at these two levels - the bodily and the spiritual - and, even in physical marriage, there is an integration of the two, a mutual service between the two.

Canon Pettitt's letter has prompted another question in my mind, that goes beyond this consideration. Is the promise of virginity/celibacy made by a woman different in some way than such a promise made by a man? Within the promises of marriage, whilst there is a substantial identity between the promise made by the woman and that made by the man, is there something particularly "feminine" about the woman's promise and something particularly "masculine" about the man's promise? To talk about a language of male and female in creation would appear to suggest that this is so. And if it is so, why should not the same "feminine" and "masculine" specificity also apply in promises of virginity/celibacy?

As a suggestion as to how this might be understood theologically, one might identify feminine virginity with the virginity of Mary (female, and figure of the Church). Masculine virginity might be identified directly with Christ (male, and Head of the Church). Comments on this thought will be very welcome. At the very least, I would expect there are some psychological studies about the differences between the experience of virginity/celibacy in female communities and male communities.

For those who are single and who have not married or made promises of virginity/celibacy, there appears to be, assuming the living of a chaste life, a de facto denial of the "language of creation" about male and female. I recall Hans Urs von Balthasar writing about this un-chosen single state as being a kind of anomaly in the life of the Church, and the secular institutes providing a way in which it could be drawn into a nuptial/vowed relationship with Christ-the Church that is like that found in marriage or religious life. I do agree with von Balthasar (and therefore disagree with some contemporary pastoral activity with regard to the promotion of vocations in the Church) in that I do not think the un-chosen single state should as such be percieved as a vocation in the Church of the same type as marriage, religious life and the priesthood.

What the un-chosen single life does contain is an openess, a possibility of a choice towards marriage or celibacy/virginity, and it does therefore still take part in the "language of creation" with regard to male and female. A single person is allowed a certain freedom in their relations with the opposite sex that the married person, priest or religious should not have. The "language of creation" indicates that these opposite sex relationships do express a different possibility than same sex friendships that one may have, and this must be respected even in the single state.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Just War?

When I studied the theory of a just war many years ago, I recall reflecting on the way in which one of the traditional conditions for a just war is understood today. It is sometimes expressed today in the form that the expected war must not inflict more harm than would otherwise be suffered, or that the harm inflicted by the war must be "proportionate" to the evil that it is intended to resist. This suggests some kind of calculation of harm, which seems impossible to do effectively.

This never seemed to me to really get to the point of what "proportionate" meant in this case. To me, the point seemed to be that, if a nation was attacked, it was entitled to take up a military defense that really was a resistance to the evil being perpetrated against itself. So, if Israel is being attacked by rockets and mortars from the Gaza strip, they are entitled to take actions that will prevent or alleviate the launch of those rockets and mortar shells. This might take the form of targetting launching sites and units, and perhaps storage and logistical supply lines for those sites and units. Wholesale, generalised air strikes against targets in the Gaza strip fail to meet this demand of actually, fairly directly resisting the evil being perpetrated. Indeed, listening to the BBC radio news today, one Israeli spokeswoman explicitly referred to "retaliation" as a way of characterising the Israeli action. [Her context was one of asking whether or not Britain would stand by and not retaliate if her territory was being subjected to attack by some 150 rockets and mortars within a 24 hour period.]

The current situation in Gaza is reminiscent of that in Lebanon, when Israel decided to attack Hezbollah. Widespread air strikes, and ground incursions, did not prevent the rocket attacks against Israel, and caused a huge extent of suffering to the Lebanese people.

So, I condemn the Israeli action completely. The actions of those who are launching the rocket and mortar attacks on Israel are also to be condemned, and they must be considered partly responsible for the situation that has arisen. But I feel that the Israeli action is particularly to be condemned because of its systematic nature, sanctioned by a well established mandate from a political leadership in a democratic nation.

What every blogger needs ....

I was trying the other day to come up with a definition of a "consumer society", and ended up with the self-contradictory "wanting to have something that, not only do you not need, but you don't even know it exists". The skill of the marketing gurus is then to let you know that it does exist.

Well, what might an inveterate blogger want that he or she didn't know existed?

One or two points from the instructions are slightly amusing. The system requirements are claimed to include 32 MB of system RAM and 50 MB available hard disk space (though there is no software to load and the cup warmer is just drawing power from the USB port). And: "Should the Cup Warmer perform unexpected functions, unplug the unit and then reset your computer".

And, the compulsory for all electrical equipment: "Do not use near water". OK, I'll only drink tea or coffee when blogging.

Saturday's Times included an advertising booklet "Collections". Of note there were the battery powered self-heating gloves (the batteries are located in the cuffs of each glove) and the multi-way socket device which claimed to save 100% of the energy being wasted when electrical devices connected to it were left in stand-by mode.

I'll let you know in due course how I get on with the cup warmer!

Friday 26 December 2008

A Christmas Greeting

I am posting here some photographs that I have just taken, as I set up the Nativity scene in my living room [...on 26th December, because I have been away from home for the last few days]. The meditation is made up of some extracts from Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas message.

The Kings are at the moment hiding on the lower shelf ...

Close up of the Virgin, Child and St Joseph

The final arrangement I chose

The grace of God has appeared. That is why Christmas is a feast of light. Not like the full daylight which illumines everything, but a glimmer beginning in the night and spreading out from a precise point in the universe: from the stable of Bethlehem, where the divine Child was born. Indeed, he is the light itself, which begins to radiate, as portrayed in so many paintings of the Nativity. He is the light whose appearance breaks through the gloom, dispels the darkness and enables us to understand the meaning and the value of our own lives and of all history. Every Christmas crib is a simple yet eloquent invitation to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of life. It is an encounter with the immortal Life which became mortal in the mystic scene of the Nativity: a scene which we can admire here too, in this Square, as in countless churches and chapels throughout the world, and in every house where the name of Jesus is adored....

Let us adore him, this very day, in every corner of the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a lowly manger. Let us adore him in silence, while he, still a mere infant, seems to comfort us by saying: Do not be afraid, "I am God, and there is no other" (Is 45:22). Come to me, men and women, peoples and nations, come to me. Do not be afraid: I have come to bring you the love of the Father, and to show you the way of peace.

Let us go, then, brothers and sisters! Let us make haste, like the shepherds on that Bethlehem night. God has come to meet us; he has shown us his face, full of grace and mercy! May his coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to his light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!

Pope Benedict XVI

As an act of solidarity with Pope Benedict XVI, I am posting here the text of a section of his address to the Curia on 22nd December. It is taken from an unofficial translation, by Bishop Campbell, Co-adjutor bishop of Lancaster. Having now been able to read the text, I find it very beautiful. The understanding of creation as open to the investigation of science, expressed in the first part of this extract, has its clear implication for the understanding of male and female in human sexuality. I am increasingly sensitive to a profound contradiction existing between the science of reproduction, be that in the plant and animal realms or be it in the human realm, and the LGBT agenda, which renders the male-female distinction empty of any meaning. Pope Benedict XVI very carefully captures the necessary connection between science and sexual morality.

I am delighted to see a link to Bishop Campbell's translation being provided on the web site of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Keeping before our eyes the witness of Scripture and of Tradition, four dimensions of the theme “Holy Spirit” are easily recognised.

1. The first is the affirmation which we find at the beginning of the account of creation: there we hear of the Creator Spirit which hovers over the waters, creates the world and constantly renews it. Faith in the Creator Spirit is an essential part of the Christian Credo. The fact that matter carries within itself a mathematical structure, is full of spirit, and forms the foundation on which the modern natural sciences rest. Only because is structured in an intelligent fashion is our spirit competent to interpret it and to actively refashion it. Because this intelligent structure proceeds from the same Spirit Creator which has given us the spirit to us, it brings with a task and a responsibility. The ultimate foundation for our responsibility towards the earth rests on our beliefs about creation. The earth is not simply our possession which we can plunder according to our interests and desires. It is rather a gift of the Creator who has designed its intrinsic laws and with this has given us the basic directions for us to adhere as stewards of his creation. The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit, clearly means that their rational structures which, transcending the mathematical order, become almost palpable in our experience, bear within themselves an ethical orientation. The Spirit which has formed them, is more than mathematics, he is the Good in person, using the language of creation, and points us to the way of right living.

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the selfdestruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Pope Benedict XVI: my hero

I am away from home at the moment, and so do not have the ease of access to news media (and to print materials) that I normally have. And one thing I usually try to avoid doing is posting on the basis of news reports of a speech without reading properly the original text... but I am going to do that here.

Several years ago, I resigned from the Executive Committee of my trade union when it adopted a policy statement that was headlined as opposing discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons. In the small print, it included definitions that meant that those supporting it considered LGBT lifestyles/behaviour as morally licit, and effectively, would be willing to present that view in all educational settings, including pre-school settings. That was what presented a difficulty to me, so I resigned from the Executive Committee to have greater freedom to oppose this policy.

About a year or so after this, Rocco Buttiglione was proposed by the Italian government as a Commissioner for the European Union. He was prevented from taking up the post when a media controversy followed his response to a question during the appointment process about his beliefs with regard to homosexuality. Rocco carefully and cautiously stated the Catholic position on this matter and, as he observed later, he was not sure whether he would be able to offer his head like St Thomas More, but a seat on the European Commision, yes that he could give up.

And now Pope Benedict XVI has presented a carefully articulaed account on the same matter. His concept of a "language of creation" that contains a male-female distinction that must be respected in the field of human sexuality is quite brilliant. An argument can be made that this language is present throughout creation in the ascent from asexual reproduction in lower living forms to sexual reproduction in the higher plants and animals. At the human level it gains a spiritual and, in the realm of grace, a theological meaning too.

I feel totally supported in the stand that I took in opposing my own trade unions policy. Pope Benedict XVI is my hero!

PS. Pope Benedict's Regensburg Address, which drew serious criticism at the time, led to a number encounters of Catholic-Muslim dialogue that did not exist before, and probably would not have happened with Pope Benedict XVI's address. The final statement of one such scholarly meeting between Catholics and Muslims has just been published. I wonder if this statement about sexuality will issue in a similar dialogue between the Catholic Church and LGBT advocates? If such a dialogue is going to happen, LGBT advocates are going to have to be willing to argue the case itself, and not just to argue, ad hominem, that anyone who opposes them is guilty of homophobia.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Second Adolescence: or ice skating

Last year Zero and I adventured in to the world of Christmas/New Year ice rinks around London. Our enthusiasm for this, or our insanity, depending on your point of view, has survived a year. A couple of photos from Friday evening at Hyde Park, in London.

We undertook very careful sociological research, at the rink at Hyde Park and then at Somerset House and the Tower of London. However, we could not convince ourselves other than that we were both well above the median age of those taking part in this slippery activity.

Thinking Faith: An Advent Narrative

The Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith has posted an interesting article about Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. It is well worth a read.

The author of this article, Dominic Robinson SJ, points out a close comparison between Pope Benedict's themes of eros and agape in the encyclical and the same themes in the writing of Hans Urs von Balthasar. A particular book in which von Balthasar presents this theme is entitled in English translation Love Alone is Credible. This is a book I chose to study for one of my examinations at the Gregorian University in first semester theology. How I had failed to recognise its parallels in Deus Caritas Est now that I have had them pointed out defeats me altogether! Dominic Robinson writes:

Balthasar also uses the terms agape and eros to characterise the eternal drama of God’s love for humanity played out in the appearance and descent of Christ. The eros of our longing for the meaning of our earthly existence is echoed in the agape of the perfect image of the God who meets us in the event of the incarnation. Christ, lover and beloved, our Advent hope, turns us towards a vision of our future glory for which we naturally long, and which will surely be sealed in his coming. This is undoubtedly a timely theme in a world where so many are searching for a sense of value, dignity and identity, but in which the figure of Jesus Christ has, perhaps in a strange twist even at Christmas, become much less obvious as the focal point of culture and human identity.

He continues to highlight the work of a Lutheran theologian and of the Protestant thinker Karl Barth (who profoundly influenced von Balthasar) in a similar vein, suggesting a quite fascinating ecumencial possibility of this thought.

..continuity [between eros and agape] will also constitute Balthasar’s discourse, just as it is also a key message of Deus Caritas Est. Agape and eros come together in a new way which proclaims how Christ’s infinite love transforms all our finite human desires. Thus the drama of this encounter of Advent hope with Easter joy transcends the perceived dualism surrounding the motifs agape and eros in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic traditions.

At a rather more subtle level, Dominic Robinson offers a reflection on the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar that is genuinely and totally Balthasarian. It is thoroughly Christocentric. One of the more frustrating aspects I found in reading On the Way to Life (a document commissioned by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Department for Education and Formation and written by Frs James Hanvey SJ and Tony Carroll SJ of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life and intended to offer an analytical basis for renewing religious education and catechesis) was its citations of von Balthasar in support of a perspective that was contrary to any genuinely Balthasarian vision.

I wonder whether we will now see an end to the fashion of quoting von Balthasar to support non-Balthasarian views by some of Dominic Robinson's colleagues at Heythrop College....

Saturday 20 December 2008

White Flower and White Rose

John Smeaton recently posted on the White Flower appeal run each year by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. John draws a parallel between the thought of joining a "pro-life resistance" by supporting this appeal and the resistance to Nazi Germany of a group of young people at Munich University in 1942-43 known as "The White Rose".

It is certainly fair to see in Nazi Germany a manifestation of what is intended now by the phrase "a culture of death", and, in this sense, to see anti-Nazi resistance as "pro-life" in a broad sense.

But, so far as I can determine, it is quite misleading to represent the White Rose as if they were in some way a precursor of today's movements of opposition to abortion and euthanasia. I am therefore somewhat irritated by the attempt to assimilate their motif of the "White Rose" to SPUC's symbol of the "White Flower".

The first literature the group distributed was the famous 1941 sermon by Bishop Clemens von Galen, Catholic bishop of Munster against the Nazi euthanasia programme. ....The students took a white rose as their symbol, to represent purity and innocence in the face of evil.

John Smeaton's source appears to be this website, but I have not been able to verify (either in print resources available to me or in internet sources) its assertion that the "White Rose" distributed Bishop Clemens von Galen's sermon, or that their first leaflet made any reference at all to euthanasia. On the contrary, the reading of the duplicated and secretly circulated text of Bishop von Galen's sermon by the Scholl family was a key inspiration for the later idea of duplicating and distributing leaflets, and the text of the first "White Rose" leaflet properly identified as such makes no reference to euthanasia.

Similarly, it is not clear exactly what the prompted the choice of the "White Rose" as their symbol. One suggestion is that it was taken from the title of a novel published in Spanish, and another is its reflection of innocence in the face of evil.

If anyone can shed further light on this question, I will be happy to post any comments received.

Thursday 18 December 2008

A topsy turvy world?

I heard an item on Radio 4's Today programme this morning about the animal research centre in Oxford. Amongst other things, the item referred to the state-of-the-art facilities for housing the animals and to the commitment to reduce as far as possible the need to experiment on animals. Much of the research referred to was into illnesses such as Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's, progressive neurological illnesses that currently have no known cure.

At one point a scientist referred to work she was doing with embryonic stem cells, which could be made to grow into the same type of cells as occur in heart tissues. This work would reduce the need to experiment on animals.

I cannot remember (and at the time of posting Today is still on air so I cannot access the listen again function to check) if these were human embryonic stem cells, though I assumed they were as I listened.

The ordinariness with which the scientist made her comments is very thought provoking ...

JOSP Fest: Journey of the Spirit Festival

Today's ZENIT news report has pointed me in the direction of this - the "First International Festival of Journeys of the Spirit". Below is the content of the page dedicated to the theme of this festival, which combines professional exhibition with a spiritual theme.

The Theme
“Sing also now, not just to enjoy the rest, as to relieve the fatigue. Sing as a traveller. Sing but walk. Sing to alleviate the difficulty of the march, but don’t indulge laziness singing. Sing and walk.” (Saint Augustine)

“Sing and walk” is the theme of the first edition of Josp Fest because it accurately describes the pilgrimage experience. Walking is a sphere of life, and together with song, it can help to overcome the obstacles faced during a journey, especially when shared with others.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

A Mass setting by Jools Holland

On Sunday morning, I heard part of a Mass setting played on the radio. It was unusual, but I did think it was nevertheless very reverent. I have just listened to it again on a CD as I drove home.

Some readers of this blog will by now be thinking that I have lost it completely, because Jools Holland is a rhythm and blues musician. Well, why should there not be a rhythm and blues setting of the Mass? The Christian mystery is not confined or limited by any one cultural context; the universality of the mystery should allow it to achieve an expression in the terms of any human culture. If it can gain an expression in, for example, a scientific culture, why should it not gain an expression in a particular musical culture?

Jools Holland's most recent album is The Informer. Along with the main CD comes a second CD. This second CD contains live recordings from concerts of religious music (rhythm/blues) at Wells and Rochester Cathedrals. Two of the tracks on this CD are from Jools Holland's setting of the Mass. Track 8 is named as "Kyrie" on the CD insert, but is actually the "Sanctus". This is the track I heard on the radio and rather liked.

If I want to cause complete consternation (or to demonstrate my street cred), I will use it at my next Eucharistic Adoration.

If you want to try to listen to the track, you could try the "listen again" function on the BBC Radio 2 website. You need to look for Aled Jones Sunday morning programme, and try to spot the interview with Jools Holland at about an hour and half into the programme. This should be available until the weekend.

Monday 15 December 2008

The Final Message of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: part 3

Herewith the notes for the third of the allocutios on the Final Message of the Synod.

7. Final Message Section 3: The Church - The House of the Word

This section of the message identifies four “pillars” upon which the Church builds her living of the life of Scripture. A model is suggested for this in the “mother community
of Jerusalem”[1].

Scripture and evangelisation/catechesis: the figure of St Peter preaching, as described in the Acts of the Apostles

Preaching, catechesis and the homily therefore presuppose a reading and understanding, an explaining and interpreting, an involvement of the mind and of the heart. Thus in preaching a dual movement is achieved. With the first, one goes back to the roots of the sacred texts, the events, the first words of the history of salvation, to understand them in their meaning and in their message. With the second movement, one returns to the present, to the today lived by those who hear and read, always with Christ in mind, who is the guiding light destined to unite the Scriptures. This is what Jesus himself did - as has already been said - in his journey to Jerusalem in Emmaus with two of his disciples. This is what the deacon Phillip would do on the way from Jerusalem to Gaza, when he spoke this emblematic dialogue with the Ethiopian official: "Do you understand what you are reading? ... How could I, unless I have someone to guide me?" (Ac 8:30-31). And the finality will be the full encounter with Christ in the sacrament.[2]

The Eucharist: the figure of the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus on the road to Emmaus

The scene at Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) is once again exemplary, and reproduces what happens every day in our churches: the homily by Jesus about Moses and the prophets gives way to the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread at the table. This is the moment of God's personal dialogue with His people. It is the act of the new covenant sealed in the blood of Christ (cf. Lk 22:20). It is the supreme work of the Word who offers himself as food in his immolated body, it is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church….."The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body" (DV 21). Therefore, "the liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship" (SC 56), and this must be brought back to the centre of Christian life.[3]

Prayerful reading of Scripture: the figure of Mary who “keeps these things in her heart” and who is united with the Apostles in prayer in the upper room

A privileged place is naturally taken by the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church par excellence, destined to give rhythm to the days and times of the Christian year, offering, above all with the Psalmody, the daily spiritual food of the faithful. Alongside this and the community celebrations of the word, tradition has introduced the practice of Lectio divina, the prayerful reading in the Holy Spirit that is able to open to the faithful the treasure of the word of God, and also to create the encounter with Christ, the living divine Word.[4]

The Church as communion of love, agape: the figure of St John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”

As Jesus mentioned, to become his brothers and his sisters one must be like "those who hear the word of God and put it into practice" (Lk 8:21). Authentic hearing is obeying and acting. It means making justice and love blossom in life. It is offering, in
life and in society, a witness like the call of the prophets, which continuously united the word of God and life, faith and rectitude, worship and social commitment…. Therefore this must already be visible and legible on the face and in the hands of the faithful, as suggested by Saint Gregory the Great who saw in Saint Benedict, and in other great men of God, witnesses of communion with God and with the sisters and brothers, the word of God come to life. The just and faithful man not only "explains" the Scriptures, but also "unfolds" them before all as a living and practiced reality.[5]


St Peter
1. Scripture and catechesis: when reading a passage of Scripture, use the index of citations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to look up how that passage is used by the Church in teaching doctrine.

2. We should live an affection, not for the person of the individual Pope, but for his
office as teacher. We can do this, for example, by co-operating with an initiative such as the Year of St Paul.

The Eucharistic presence of Jesus
3. We can take part in times of Eucharistic Adoration, which will help us grow in our participation in the celebration of the Eucharist itself.

Spiritual reading of Scripture
4. We could pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or part thereof, each day. The texts are mostly Scriptural - the psalms, the short reading, the Canticles. The Rosary is also a prayer based on Gospel events and images.

5. We could practice the steps of “lectio divina”:

This begins with the reading (lectio) of the text, which provokes the question of true knowledge of its real content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Then follows meditation (meditatio) where the question is: what does the Biblical text say to us? In this manner, one arrives at prayer (oratio), which presupposes this other question: what do we say to the Lord in answer to his word? And one ends with contemplation (contemplatio) during which we assume, as God's gift, the same gaze in judging reality and ask ourselves: what conversion of the mind, the heart and life does the Lord ask of us?[6]

St John
6. We must be witnesses to our faith in our daily lives. Either as witnesses through charity - eg visiting the sick - or witnesses through explicit teaching.

[1] Final Message of the Synod n.6. Theologically, a lot could be made of this model in terms of seeing particular individuals (eg St Peter, the Virgin Mary, St John) as representing permanent offices in the Church.
[2] Final Message of the Synod n.7.
[3] Final Message of the Synod n.8.
[4] Final Message of the Synod n.9
[5] Final Message of the Synod n.10.
[6] Final Message of the Synod n.9.

St Margaret of Cortona and All Saints, Canning Town

This is the parish where we went to Mass yesterday (en route to the National Theatre to see War Horse). The parish is now in the care of the Community of St John, who arrived at the beginning of October. Canning Town is within the London Borough of Newham, a poorer area of East London.

The newsletter - and Father Martin's homily - talked about the different postures in the liturgy. Sitting, a bodily prayer of receptivity; standing as a sign of respect, honour towards the Gospels; and kneeling as a bodily prayer of adoration. This was followed by an explicit encouragement of kneeling, together, during the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer. (Before Mass, the dozen or so altar servers were being shown how to come round to the front of the sanctuary and kneel on the step.) I suspect a previous practice of standing, or, at least, a mixed practice arising from the different cultures and nationalities represented in the parish community.

The newsletter also contained the programme for their Christmas retreat, with an invitation to take part in as many of the events as possible.

Monday 22nd December: 7.30 pm Reconciliation Service

Tuesday 23rd December:
11.00 am First Talk (Parish Centre - upstairs)
12,00 pm Holy Mass (St Margaret's)
3.00 pm Second Talk (Parish Centre - upstairs)

Wednesday 24th December:
11.00 am Third Talk (Parish Centre - upstairs)
12.00pm Holy Mass (Advent Mass - St Margaret's)
3.00 pm Fourth Talk (Parish Centre - upstairs)

7.30 pm: Carol Service
8.00 pm: Christmas Eve Mass
11.30 pm Carol Service
12.00 am Midnight Mass

Thursday 25th December: 10.00 am and 12.00 pm Christmas Day Masses

The newsletter also offered the possibility of eating lunch with the community on each day of the retreat, though this needed to be arranged in advance with the guest master of the community. What a wonderful way to begin celebrating Christmas.

Now, isn't this a parish you want to be part of! I had a nice chat with Fr Martin after Mass. And a conversation with one of my AS Physics students from school ...

Saturday 13 December 2008

Rosary meme

I was asked to do this a few days ago. When I got my camera out to take the required photographs yesterday, it wouldn't work. A change of batteries, and it still wouldn't work. Hence imagination required, at least for two of the rosaries involved..
UPDATE: the camera has decided to work today (Saturday afternoon).

1. The Rosary I usually use is one purchased about a year ago from Aid to the Church in Need.

2. My "next oldest" is a one-decade Rosary ring, part of the pilgrim's pack from the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne. Now faded in colour wooden beads on a small cord, made if I recall rightly, in the Holy Land for the World Youth Day pilgrims. [See the end of this post. If we hadn't gone in 2005, we would have been even further out of the age bracket by 2008!]

3. My only other Rosary is one purchased at Pluscarden Abbey, when I stayed there during the Jubilee Year 2000. I was at the time trying to find myself a new crucifix for my home, to be my "Jubilee Year crucifix". I wasn't being successful at that, so the Rosary came instead. Found a San Damiano crucifix for my flat a couple of years later, after visiting Assisi.

They all live in a pocket of the ruck sack that I usually take out with me. Handy to have the spares with me if someone has lost hers ...

Friday 12 December 2008

UK Bishops Conference Marriage and Family Life Project: leaflet on homosexuality (3)

In my second post on this topic I promised a reflection on how a doctrinal reference could be included in a strategy of parish response to the question of homosexuality. Here is that reflection.

First of all, some principles.

1. I would like to suggest that there is what one might term a "catechetical moment" and a "pastoral moment" in a parish response. The word "moment" here refers not just to "moment" as in time, but also to "moment" as in circumstance.

2. The "pastoral moment" needs to remain faithful to the "catechetical moment". There should be no contradiction between the two, even though that might mean that you need to say something that you expect to be unwelcome. [As an aside, I have a memory from many years ago of a situation - I think to do with Sunday Mass attendance - where a priest I knew had given an impression that "the Church didn't bother with that any more". I eventually figured that what had happened was that, in a situation where someone was quite justifiably prevented from making it to Mass, the priest had tried to be supportive in a difficult situation by saying something like "You don't need to bother about that". The "pastoral moment" had failed to properly reflect the "catechetical moment".]

3. In terms of timing, and of pastoral skill, it is counter productive to try to carry out catechetical activity at the time of the "pastoral moment". And, in most situations, the "catechetical moment" needs to occur before the "pastoral moment" arises. At the "pastoral moment", rather than initial teaching taking place, what needs to happen is a recall to the expectations of a teaching that has already been given.

4. Pastoral skill requires that responses be considered and prepared before the need for their use arises. Thinking on your feet at the time is likely to lead to mistakes. This advance preparation is perhaps primarily required of clergy, but should also extend to any who have a pastoral responsibility in the parish.

So, how is the "catechetical moment" achieved? This is by taking the opportunity for teaching about homosexuality at some point during each year. The teaching, however, needs to be a positive presentation of the truth about human love and its integrity. I have done this in the context of devotion to the Sacred Heart in June, and the covenantal relationship of marriage being a sign of the covenantal love of God for his people, the love the Son for the Bride. In this positive context, homosexual activity is seen as failing to respect the truth about human love. June also sees the feast of St Charles Lwanga and companions, who died rather than giving in to the homosexual desires of the King in Uganda at their time. Homosexual temptations can also be seen in a comparison to heterosexual temptations.

And how is the "pastoral moment" achieved? I think the category of hospitality, that I referred to in a comment to my earlier post, is key here. You need to work out what you will say - and do - if someone says to you "I'm a homosexual". It might be worth letting them have some time to talk about exactly what they mean by that, and doing something to offer hospitality, such as making them a cup of tea of popping into a cafe for a coffee. [My trade union encourages its officials to meet up with members during casework in places like bars or cafes - anonymous and generally safer than private places to meet.] None of this implies any agreement with a homosexual agenda. When you do talk about the Church's teaching - provided that you have already fulfilled the "catechetical moment" in the parish - the person you are talking to should not take it as a personal attack on your part; you will only be saying to them what they would expect, given what you have already taught on the subject.

If there is no consistency in teaching during the "catechetical moment", that is, consistency within the parish and consistency between parishes/priests/bishops, then the effectiveness of the "pastoral moment" is undermined. The response of an individual priest can to easily be seen as "personal". So a first priority needs to be the establishing of a consistently faithful catechesis of the Church's teaching in this area.

Part of this consistency needs to be the development of a positive presentation of the nature of human loving, and not just an "anti-homosexual stance". An outline of such a positive presentation could rightly have been expected of the Marriage and Family Life Project leaflet, as a contribution to the "catechetical moment".

The bottom line, though, to be presented in all due charity, is that if someone wants to live an active homosexual life style they need to be told that this is not compatible with Catholic teaching. This can be said in a way that respects completely the freedom of the person involved, and without any personal condemnation. [Or, if it is done without proper thought, it can be done disastrously!] The Marriage and Family Life Project leaflet could have been expected to make some suggestions about this, giving, for example, some suitable wordings that could be used.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Maryvale Higher Education Degree Ceremony

Yesterday, after teaching my two lessons first thing in the morning, I was on the train to Birmingham to attend Maryvale's HE award ceremony. I had worked with a couple of students receiving BA Applied Theology degrees, and a group of PGCE students were also receiving their awards.

The ceremony was held in St Chad's Cathedral in the centre of Birmingham. Gorgeously Gothic. Above the high altar is a reliquary for the remains of St Chad.

From the point of view of the PGCE course, it was interesting to see Anglicans (more than one) and a Muslim among the students receiving their awards. I think that their participation in Maryvale courses represents ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue "on the ground", so to speak, instead of in the ether of "discussion". The Awards were presented by Rev. Chris Batten, a Methodist, who has a long association with the Open University and with the Academic structures of Maryvale.

The ceremony ended with the celebration of Evening Prayer (a rather nice touch), with the psalms and Magnificat sung to plainsong settings. I didn't find it very inspiring, musically. I can't help but feel that chant settings, particularly of psalms, are most at home in a monastic setting, and less so in a parish setting. It all seemed rather, well, plain, when something a bit more celebratory was called for.

It is a day like this, though, that reminds me of just how much work - and determination - is needed by the students who complete part-time degrees at Maryvale. So, congratulations to the students I worked with!

I met afterwards a young man who, over twenty years ago, had been in my physics class at school. His mother was one of "my" BA Applied Theology students. He still remembered one of my sillier representations of a standing wave (don't ask, but if you know what a standing wave is you can probably work it out without too much difficulty).

I also had the opportunity to meet and speak to Fr Guy Nicholls, of the Birmingham Oratory. We last met/spoke during student days - ie over 20 years ago. When I introduced myself to him, his immediate response was:

"You look far too young to be the Joseph Sowerby I would know...".

See that: "...far too young ..."

Made my day!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

The "sacramental principle"?

Compare this:

The Sacramental Principle: “this term describes the church’s belief that “the presence of God and of grace” are “mediated through symbols to the entire course of ordinary life…through a wide variety of symbols – material, sensuous, aesthetic, active, verbal and intellectual”.
Who or what has been a sacrament to us recently?

.. to this:

The sacraments, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, are efficacious signs of grace perceptible to the senses. Through them divine life is bestowed upon us. There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.

The first quotation has been extracted from a Powerpoint presentation used during a training day for Heads of RE in Catholic Schools. Birmingham Archdiocese, as it happens, and freely available on the website of that Diocese's Department for Religious Education: here, and follow the link "A Pedagogy for Spirituality". It reflects the approach underlying On the Way to Life, so I am sure it's essential idea is cropping up elsewhere, too.

The second quotation is the answer to question 224 in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

At first sight, there is nothing wrong with the first quotation. And I don't think there is anything wrong with what is in the quotation, though it would perhaps be more customary in the Catholic Church to refer to the providential presence of God and of grace rather than a sacramental presence. It is what isn't in the quotation that makes it problematical.

Let me apply a couple of criteria for catechetical judgement. Does the quotation fully express a Christological reference? Well, no, there is no Christological reference. Does the quotation fully express a relation to salvation history as presented in the Scriptures and in the history of the Church? Well, no there is no reference to salvation history. One can see an (implied) reference to the world as created by God, and therefore the visible signs of that world being able to communicate God's presence - but even the doctrine of creation, the beginning of salvation history, is not explicitly adverted to.

This catechetical weakness does have a pastoral consequence: on the basis of this first quotation, there will be no logic of encouragement to celebrate the Sacraments properly so called. God and grace may be communicated through any signs/actions (true); so there is no necessity to turn to those signs/actions specifically designated through which God and grace are (not just may be) communicated. A particular casualty here will be the Sacrament of Penance.

237. From where do sacramental signs come?
Some come from created things (light, water, fire, bread, wine, oil); others come from social life (washing, anointing, breaking of bread). Still others come from the history of salvation in the Old Covenant (the Passover rites, the sacrifices, the laying on of hands, the consecrations). These signs, some of which are normative and unchangeable, were taken up by Christ and are made the bearers of his saving and sanctifying action.

My emphasis added here, to try and draw out that it is the taking up and defining of the signs by Christ that is just as much a part of the "sacramental principle" as the idea of signs themselves communicating the presence and grace of God.

It is quite sad to see an inadequate approach to the Sacraments still prevalent in RE circles.

Update on report on faith schools

I posted my two penny worth in response to the recently published Runnymede Trust report on faith schools here.

The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) have released this statement, posted at the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. These are the concluding sentences of their statement - emphasis added by me:

CARJ and the Runnymede Trust have worked side by side in the struggle for racial justice over many years. We have drawn on the work of Runnymede and occasionally involved them in our work. In many ways, we share a similar analysis of British society and a similar vision for the future. We have many values and aspirations in common. It is from this position of genuine solidarity, and with some hesitation, that we express our deep disappointment in Runnymede’s analysis of faith schools.

Ironically, this report is guilty of exactly what it criticises in faith schools – a failure to develop an empathetic understanding that is able to reach across traditions and beliefs.

Monday 8 December 2008

Children's Liturgy - of a sort?

I have just been indirectly led to this post, entitled Kindergarten at Mass. Reading the bloggers' observations about her/his experience of entering churches when s/he was a child prompted two thoughts.

Is the practise of Children's Liturgy (when young children leave the Church for a form of liturgy of the word during Mass) really the right way forward? Shouldn't they stay, and have their sense of awe encouraged by the readings, a solemnly sung psalm and allelulia, and the incense and candles of the Gospel procession?

And I suspect this applies very much to the parents too .... Shouldn't someone tell them what all these things mean, instead of assuming that it is beyond them?

Ah, what might be ...

The Final Message of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God (part 2)

I posted the notes for the first of four allocutios about the Final Message of the Synod here.

Below are the notes for my second allocutio. Section 4 represents what I am going to use as the spiritual reading at the opening of the meeting.

4. Pope Benedict XVI: the unity of Scripture[1]

The aim of [“canonical exegesis”] is to read individual texts within the totality of the one Scripture, which then sheds new light on all the individual texts. Paragraph 12 of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation had already clearly underscored this as a fundamental principle of theological exegesis: If you want to understand the Scripture in the spirit in which it is written you have to attend to the content and to the unity of Scripture as a whole. The Council goes on to stress the need for taking account of the living tradition of the Church and of the analogy of
faith (the intrinsic correspondences within the faith).

Let us dwell for the time being on the unity of Scripture. It is a theological datum. But it is not simply imposed from the outside on what is in itself a heterogeneous ensemble of writings. Modern exegesis has brought to light the process of constant rereading that forged the words transmitted in the Bible into Scripture: Older texts are reappropriated, reinterpreted, and read with new eyes in new contexts. They become Scripture by being read anew, evolving in continuity with their original sense, tacitly corrected and given added depth and breadth of meaning. This is a process in which the word gradually unfolds its inner potentialities, already present somehow like seeds, but needing the challenge of new situations, new experiences and new sufferings, in order to open up.

This process is certainly not linear, and it is often dramatic, but when you watch it unfold in [the] light of Jesus Christ, you can see it moving in a single overall direction: you can see that the Old and New Testaments belong together. This [is a] Christological hermeneutic, which sees Jesus Christ as the key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity.

5. The Final Message Section 2: “the Word was made flesh”

This section draws an analogy between God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and the words of God made flesh in the written words of the books of Scripture. It then goes on to assert the unity between the two parts of this analogy.

'Christ is "the Word [that] was with God and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). "He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation" (Col 1:15); but he is also Jesus of Nazareth who walks the roads of a marginal province of the Roman Empire, who speaks the local language, who reveals the traits of a people, the Jews, and its culture. Therefore the real Jesus Christ is fragile and mortal flesh; he is history and humanity, but he is also glory, divinity, mystery: he who revealed God to us, the God no one has ever seen (cf. Jn 1:18). The Son of God continues to be so even in the dead body placed in the sepulcher and the resurrection is the living and clear proof to this fact.[2]

'… the Bible is also "flesh", "letter"; it expresses itself in particular languages, in literary and historical forms, in concepts tied to an ancient culture, it preserves the memories of events, often tragic; its pages not infrequently are marked by blood and violence, within it resounds the laughter of humanity and the flowing tears, as well as the cry of the distressed and the joy of those in love. For this, its "bodily" dimension requires an historical and literary analysis, which occurs through various methods and approaches offered by Biblical exegesis. Every reader of Sacred Scripture, even the most simple, must have a proportionate knowledge of the sacred text, recalling that the word is enveloped in concrete words, which is shaped and adapted to make it heard and understood by all of humanity…. . The Bible, however, is also the eternal and divine Word and for this reason requires another understanding, given by the Holy Spirit who unveils the transcendent dimension of the divine word, present in human words.[3]

'Here, thus, lies the necessity of the "living Tradition of all the Church" (DV 12) and of the faith to understand Sacred Scripture in a full and unified way. Should one focus only on the "letter", the Bible is only a solemn document of the past, a noble, ethical and cultural witness. ….. Exegetical knowledge must, therefore, weave itself indissolubly with spiritual and theological tradition so that the divine and human unity of Jesus Christ and Scripture is not broken.[4]


1. The assertion of a unity of the Scriptures is closely linked to the idea of salvation history. See first post.

2. Scripture is communicating to us, not just a word spoken to us by God, but the person of Jesus Christ. Its written “words” are a kind of flesh to show us the “Word” that is God made man - Jesus Christ. The purpose of Biblical knowledge is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The Final Message of the Synod expresses this by talking about Jesus as “the Face of the Word”, and saying that “That the divine Word has put on a face is at the centre of Revelation”.[5]

3. The Final Message of the Synod suggests that a certain level of formation is necessary for those who read the Scriptures, if they are to encounter Jesus Christ. The Final Message implies two components of this formation: a knowledge of exegetical methods so that different forms in the Scriptures can be recognised; and a knowledge of the life and tradition of the Church so that the Scriptures are read in their appropriate ecclesial context. A suitable commentary on the Scriptures and The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church come to mind as necessary reading to accompany the reading of the Scriptures.

4. The attitude of Muslims towards the Koran is not like that of Catholics towards the Bible. They would not see the Koran as in any way enfleshing the person of God.

5. It is necessary to read Scripture within the Tradition of the Church if this personal encounter with Jesus Christ is to be achieved. The Final Message of the Synod will therefore talk about reading Scripture within the Church in its third section. However, for evangelical Christians who read the Scripture without this ecclesial context, it is difficult to go beyond the “letter” of Scripture. In practice they are vulnerable to a fundamentalist reading of Scripture, which misses out the element of personal encounter.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth pp.xviii-xix.
[2] Final Message of the Synod n.4.
[3] Final Message of the Synod n.5.
[4] Final Message of the Synod n.6.
[5] cf Final Message of the Synon n.6.

As far as a commentary on Scriptures is concerned, I really do not know which to recommend. What I do quite often refer to, and find strikes the correct balance of pastoral usefulness and academic rigour, is Xavier Leon-Dufour's Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Saturday 6 December 2008

A lovely story


It is a big decision to enter the religious life or to begin training for the priesthood. The person entering makes a decision that they feel called to this way of life; and the religious order or diocese makes a discernment of that calling. As the story indicates, this decision might well be mediated through a lot of everyday circumstances (on the part of the one called) and a lot of administration and human examination (on the part of the religious order or seminary). The trust on all sides, however, is that this process is undertaken in obedience to the gift of God's grace shared by them in the life of the Church.

Sometimes another big decision will be made. The first years of religious life are a period of formation, and most of the years in seminary training are undertaken before diaconal ordination. During this time, it might become clear that, after all, this is not the vocation for me. No final commitment has been made, only preparation for that commitment. Sometimes it will be the person themselves who comes to this decision; sometimes it will be the religious order or the diocese.

I think it is important that someone who is trying a vocation, perhaps particularly to the religious life, can feel completely comfortable if they later decide to come away again. This is not an unusual experience in the Church. The measure is not that of "did I make it to permanent vows" but that of "am I doing God's will at this particular moment"? And that might change and grow with time and human circumstances.

The person entering does so with a conviction of their vocation born of God's grace, and quite rightly so. It is those around them - friends, family, parish - who need to make sure that someone who enters religious life can feel comfortable if they later come away. I think the correct pastoral attitude is one of expressing support for the person entering, yes with excitement at the fact that they are entering, but trying to say at the same time that you would be equally supportive if they were choosing a lay vocation in life.

Thinking faith on livesimply

Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal, has an interesting article entitled The Challenge to Live Simply. This is a very well articulated account of the livesimply project, and I think anyone who wishes to comment on that project should read this article. It is very easy to get drawn into commenting on livesimply without understanding its real basis - commenting on the comments, rather than on the original! If you read this article, I think that you will see that some genuinely Catholic insights are involved in the project; indeed, I would suggest that one can see in it elements of a genuine charism in the Church.

You need to read the Thinking Faith article to make sense of the following observations:

livesimply tends to express its approach to relationships in the order of relationships with other people followed by relationship with God (eg in the third paragraph) - Deus Caritas Est presents these two the other way round, the relationship with God being treated before that with other people. According to Cardinal Cordes, the drafting of Deus Caritas Est by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum put them the same way round as the livesimply project, and Pope Benedict deliberately changed the order round when he wrote the encyclical. This isn't to say that livesimply has got it wrong, since the essential point is that the two go together. But it may indicate a certain development in doctrine.

livesimply might be criticised for lacking a Christological reference in much of its work. The Thinking Faith article contains the following paragraph:
We have an incarnational faith. We believe that God became human in Jesus and therefore God became poor, powerless and vulnerable. The gospels tell the story of the life, mission and death of Jesus and this sets an example of how we should act towards others. Jesus stood out against the social and cultural expectations of his times in the way he interacted with the Pharisees, in the way his disciples understood him, and most of all on the cross. So it is with us; in a world of greed, selfishness and consumerism we are called to be good news for the poor.
I think this paragraph does give a ground for suggesting that the practise of the livesimply project should articulate a more explicit Christological reference. I think that reference can be developed more fully than this paragraph's presentation of Jesus as the example we follow, perhaps along the lines of Jesus as a redeemer of poverty through his assuming of poverty.

I think the paragraph headed "Living sustainably" recognises that the environmentalist aspect of livesimply does not really have its origins in Populorum Progressio, the encyclical that is the inspiration of the project as a whole. It is a "later insertion", though that does not necessarily make it erroneous. I think we should be cautious about accepting "kinship" with creation as a replacement for "subjugation". Whilst the latter word might not communicate successfully to contemporary sensitivities, the idea that the material created world is for the service of humankind and for him to use towards his own good (cf Genesis) is not necessarily adequately communicated by the word "kinship" either. Pope Benedict, when he is "talking green", presents creation as something to be valued and protected because of its being a manifestation of its Creator. His environmentalism has a Trinitarian and Christological reference, which could perhaps be drawn into the livesimply project as part of a development of its Christological reference.

The paragraph headed "Living simply" contains a one sentence reference to the evangelical counsel of poverty as lived out in consecrated life in the Church. Again, I think this allows us to see in livesimply a modern presentation of the evangelical counsel of poverty, without that being against the inspiration of the project. This would go hand in hand with a development of the Christological reference of livesimply. Towards the end of the article, a suggestion is made that livesimply could give rise to "basic Christian communities". This choice of terminology has a certain historical, ecclesial and political context. But the idea of people living life together under a chosen condition of poverty seems to me a profoundly Christian idea. Leaving aside a vocabulary with a particular political or social overtone, this could be seen, as are the new movements in the Church, as a contemporary way of living what would previously have been called religious life.

This paragraph, in the section headed "Living in solidarity", is perhaps unfortunate in opposing the religious practise of going to Mass to charitable mission. Completely resolvable, though, if the Christological reference implicit in livesimply is fully developed:
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 reminds us that the final judgement will not be concerned with the things that usually enter our heads when we think of our religion – for example, how many times we attended Mass – but rather with how we behaved to Jesus when we encountered him in our brothers and sisters in need. Our prayer life and religious devotions are things that have to help and sustain us in our desire for the common good.

I think it is possible to see in livesimply elements of a genuine charism in the Church, to see things that could lead to genuine renewal in the living of the evangelical counsel of poverty in the Church. Its call to turn away from materialism, from the desire for more and more things, and towards a more spiritual life is something that I think Pope Benedict would support wholeheartedly.

UK Bishops Marriage and Family Life Project: leaflet on homosexuality (2)

One of the boxes in the Marriage and Family Life Project quotes from some of the things said during the Listening 2004 exercise. This national exercise involved meetings in a number of diocesan and other contexts in which people came together to talk about their experience of marriage and family life.

At the time I remember thinking: what exactly did this exercise wish to listen to? In practice, I think it ended up listening to anything and therefore to everything. Without any discernment. When I asked some families in the parish to give testimonies during a time of Eucharistic Adoration that coincided with the celebration of the Fifth World Meeting of Families in Valencia, I gave them a steer. I asked them to talk about how they lived out the idea of the Husband-Wife relationship in marriage as an imaging of the Christ-Church relationship (cf St Paul's letter to the Ephesians). The families involved were not by any means restricted by this; they kept and used their freedom to talk about their experience as they wished to do. Some of the families were keen to run their testimonies by me in advance; but I made a decision before reading them that I would not suggest any changes of content (I think I typed up a script for one family, editing for sentence structure but not for content). But they had a focus on the Christian concept of marriage. The result was a series of very powerful testimonies, ranging from younger parents with young children through to widowhood, and a profoundly moving witness to the sacrament of marriage. Difficulties not by any means absent, I should add.

The difficulty with Listening 2004 was that it was not given any doctrinal direction. It would have been very useful to hear how families were trying to live up to their Christian vocations - but without a doctrinal steer, this is not what happened. Instead, what we have in the experiences quoted in the leaflet in question, is anything and everything, regardless of any relation it might have to Christian marriage. Beyond evidence of the dangers of lack of charity, and lack of skill in charity, the experiences quoted in the leaflet - "The church has been very intolerant of him", for example - are of little use.

The lack of a doctrinal reference of any sort in the content of the Marriage and Family Life Project (and the documents referred to in the "Useful Resources" box do not make up for this - the selectivity of the resources listed leaves out, for example, The Catechism of the Catholic Church) is in my view a major weakness. This is not to say that I think the leaflet should contain a purely dogmatic restatement of the Church's teaching; but the reference to that teaching should be discernable and form a basis for the pastoral presentation in the leaflet.

Linked to this lack of doctrinal reference is the underlying idea of "welcome" - "everybodyswelcome.org.uk". The word "welcome" can be used in a very dissimulating way. It can mean that we approach all people, including those who have different beliefs than our own, in a way that is charitable. We conduct ourselves in charity towards them, without in any way saying that what we are doing is agreeing with their beliefs that are different than ours. However, it can also be used in a way that means we are accepting as legitimate Catholic belief things that are in conflict with the teaching of the Church. In this second sense, "welcome" is indifferentism. However, a concept of "welcome" as the underlying concept of the Marriage and Family Life Project does not appear to be making clear which of these two ideas of welcome is in play. The lack of doctrinal reference allows readers to indulge in this dissimulation.

To follow in a future post: a more detailed analysis of how the doctrinal reference can be given its due place, without being just "dogmatic".

Runnymede Trust on faith schools

On Friday (slow news day, so you can perhaps understand why the report was released for coverage on that day), the UK news media covered a report on faith schools by the Runnymede Trust. This trust has for a number of years researched and reported on issues relating to equalities. I have a report from a good few years ago on Islamophobia.

The BBC website coverage of their report can be found here. The Times report is here, headlined "Faith schools must give up religion as a basis for selecting pupils, says report".

My own trade union is of course very exercised on this, so there has been a comment on the e-mail network among branch secretaries and executive. My contribution is below:

Dear Colleagues

What I found interesting in the Times report (and I have perceived it in other media coverage of faith schools in recent months) was the way in which it included an unstated assumption - that schools with a religious designation are OK so long as they are not allowed to be religious. It seems a bit discriminatory to me ...

The assessment of schools solely on the basis of their contribution to a particular assumption about what makes for good sociology is flawed for any type of school - any school is about other things as well, and focussing on research that does not take account of that will anyway produce only a partial picture.

I was suitably amused by the DCSF spokesman quoted on the BBC news website: "The bottom line is that faith schools are successful, thriving, popular and here to stay".

Wednesday 3 December 2008

St Paul the tent maker

I thought this was an interesting post, at Catholic Analysis. It is a reflection on St Paul's trade as a tent maker, comparing it to the Johannine phrase often translated as "He dwelt among us" but which more exactly translated from the Greek means "He pitched his tent among us".

How fitting then that the Apostle to the nations who would proclaim this Good News would be a tentmaker by trade, in effect a "tabernacle maker" bringing the presence of God to the Gentiles ...

UK Bishops Marriage and Family Life Project: leaflet on homosexuality (1)

I offer here a first thought on this leaflet. The text of the leaflet can be found here, and I am for once following a rule I have (but sometimes break) - respond to the original and not to the media coverage of it! The website suggests that the leaflet was first published in May 2007, so I am not sure what has now brought it to the attention of the media.

A reflection at Antagonistic Pots and Pans about recent reports of an increase in the number of children being born with Downs Syndrome is also relevant. Here is part of that post:

"But one of the biggest factors at play is people changing their attitudes. There is far more support, and advances in medicine mean that it is not uncommon for sufferers to live into their sixties."

This 'change in attitude' claim is what struck me. If attitudes change, then yes, we've still lost on many counts on the legislative level, but that legislation (to abort DS babies and all the other recent additional horrors) would lie there unused, as it would be abhorrent in society's view not to protect every life from conception to its natural end.

[But see John Smeaton's precautionary post here]

What I suspect, though, is that, if a parish community were to learn that a Mum-to-be in the parish was expecting a baby that had a high risk of being born with Downs Syndrome, they really would not have a properly developed response strategy. Considerable pastoral skill is needed to respond in a way that is both supportive of the Mum-to-be and her family and that is faithful to the teaching of the Church; a (dogmatic) restatement of the Church's teaching on abortion does not comprise such a strategy. I feel that there is an un-preparedness of Catholic parish communities, that is, of parish clergy in collaboration with their lay people, to respond to these sorts of situations. The causes of such un-preparedness lie in weaknesses in theological/catechetical formation and in the gift/grace of charity, a tendency to oppose these two at a practical level rather than to synthesise them.

So the idea of producing a leaflet about how parish communities should respond when Catholics with a homosexual inclination approach and wish to take part in the life of the parish seems to me to be a matter of very sound pastoral intent. Most parishes, including those with priests who are well formed, will simply have no real idea about how to make such a response; and it does take a considerable pastoral skill and thought beforehand.

The leaflet produced by the Bishop's Project for Marriage and Family Life is flawed. It does not represent the synthesis of Catholic teaching and charity that I suggest forms the structure of an effective pastoral response. Time permitting, I will look at this in more detail in a later post.

What would be a good idea would be to prepare an alternative leaflet that does not suffer the failures of the one just produced.

The Catholic Church and homosexuality

I was away from home over the weekend, so missed out on the furore over the leaflet on welcoming lesbians and homosexuals in Catholic parishes. See here and here (I think this latter is a cut and paste of Daily Mail coverage) for an idea of what was going on.

ZENIT is today carrying a report that offers a useful counter balance in terms of its approach to this question. It refers to activity of the Holy See at the United Nations, but sheds a useful light on what might have been said here in the UK.

I have a lot of sympathy with having to respond to a strategy by gay activists that puts together in the same document quite acceptable concerns about unfair discrimination with statements of moral approval of homosexual or lesbian behaviour. I think it is a tactic called "piggy backing", and it led to my resigning from the Executive of my trade union when they adopted an anti-discrimination statement with small print that I could not accept.

The UK Bishops Marriage and Family Life Project could perhaps have been rather more politically aware in preparing their leaflet. In the media response, one can quite definitely see the phenomenon of "piggy backing".