Monday 31 March 2008

Eucharistic Adoration: Friday 4th April 2008

Once again, a "first Friday" has rather crept up on me! The icon shown on the poster for this month is one of the icons on the "Ark of the New Covenant" designed for the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec later this year.

With the children, I intend doing a kind of liturgy of light, with a reading from part of the Exultet. This will be followed by an "action prayer" in which I will ask the children to come up and light a votive candle from the Easter candle, and place it before the altar. I also want to talk to them about genuflecting, and get them to practise this again. This will tie in with suggesting that the Body of Christ present in the Eucharist is the Body of the same Lord who rose from the dead.

With the "grown ups", I plan to use some parts of Pope Benedict's Easter Vigil homily - "turning towards the Lord" will be a very good motif for introducing the Holy Hour. I am also going to try to use a theme suggested in the catechetical materials from the Eucharistic Congress. This is an idea of the "three bodies" of Christ: the corporal body that rose from the dead, the Eucharist as the Body of Christ and the Church as the Body of Christ.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Another Easter Candle (and the Cabinet War Rooms)

Two of us spent a day out in London today (Saturday). We started at St James's Church, Spanish Place for Mass and Confession. A result of the latter is that I now have to keep to my side of an "if you go to confession, I'll go to the dentist" deal. So I have an appointment to make on Monday ... If I remember correctly, St James's began life as an embassy chapel at a time when Catholicism in England was "underground". The sanctuary was beautifully decorated for the Easter Octave. The Easter Candle is shown alongside. Every Saturday, there is Mass at 10 am followed by Confessions - this IS a plug, if any one is on pilgrimage to the shops in nearby Oxford Street on a Saturday.

We then went on to visit the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum, just off St James's Park. This is the underground shelter or bunker, very near to Downing Street, where the War Cabinet (the core Government ministers responsible for maintaining Government during World War II) met. The visit to the Cabinet War Rooms has an audioguide, where you press codes to hear the commentary at each point during the visit. At the cabinet room itself, you can listen to a reconstruction of an argument between Winston Churchill and his military commanders about a scheme to send a raid to Trondheim in Norway (Churchill wanted it, the military didn't, and the latter carried the day). At another point you can listen to extracts from the diary of the senior officer in charge of home defence at a time during the War when an invasion of England by the Germans was expected at any day. "Perhaps the Germans will invade tomorrow" gives an impression of how imminent invasion was thought to be, with a rather relieved "Perhaps the Germans will not attempt it" as the last extract given. In modern parlance, Churchill's management style would be described as "very hands on" (ie interfering in all the details). It is a very interesting visit, though I expect that it will be quite crowded during the main summer tourist season - even today, many of the visitors were overseas tourists.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Richard Feynman: part 3 1/2

Mike Gottlieb's comment on Richard Feynman Part 3set me pondering last night. My pondering came up with two things, so here they are. I feel that they do link up to each other.

First Thing

I included in Part 3 the following quotation from the end of chapter 5 of Feynman's The Character of Physical Law. I left on one side what the quotation might tell us about Feynman's views on religion.
Which end is nearer to God; if I may use a religious metaphor. Beauty and hope, or the fundamental laws? I think that the right way, of course, is to say that what we have to look at is the whole structural interconnection of the thing; and that all the sciences, and not just the sciences, but all the efforts of intellectual kinds, are an endeavour to see the connections of the hierarchies, to connect beauty to history, to connect history to man's psychology, man's psychology to the working of the brain, the brain to the neural impulse, the neural impulse to the chemistry, and so forth, up and down, both ways...And I do not think either end is nearer to God... to stand with evil and beauty and hope, or to stand with the fundamental laws, hoping that way to get a deep understanding of the whole world, with that aspect alone, is a mistake. "

Qn 1: What can we infer from this about Feynman's own religious beliefs? Ans: As Mike Gottlieb pointed out in his comment, Feynman refers to God as a "metaphor" so indicating that he does not believe in the existence of God, and this .

Qn 2: What can we infer about Feynman's attitude towards religious belief and towards those who hold religious beliefs? Ans: To be fair to Feynman, we can only be very tentative in answering this question, and should recognise that Feynman was not in this context talking to believers specifically. But in a dialogue with people of faith, a non-believer would recognise that, though he does not believe God exists at all, those he is talking to do believe that God exists as an objective reality - and not just as a "metaphor". Does the use of the term "metaphor" indicate a discourtesy towards believers?

Qn 3 (and, for me, the most perplexing question): In this passage, what exactly does Feynman use the metaphor of God to represent? Ans: A "deep understanding of the whole world", a complete understanding of the whole world? ....

Second Thing

In Richard Feynman Part 2, I included the following quote, taken from the end of chapter 1 of The Character of Physical Law, where Feynman is summarising the features of physical laws. I added my own observation that I thought the word inexact had been well chosen. It did not indicate that the laws are wrong or incorrect, rather that they are open to and need the greater precision that comes with the furtherance of scientific knowledge.

"First, it is mathematical in its expression; the others are that way too. Second, it is not exact; Einstein had to modify it, and we know it is not quite right yet, because we have still to put the quantum theory in. That is the same with all our other laws - they are not exact. There is always an edge of mystery, always a place where we have some fiddling around to do yet. This may or may not be a property of Nature, but it certainly is common to all laws as we know them today. It may be only a lack of knowledge."

It is in this context that I think we need to read Feynman's comment that "science is uncertain" as it occurs in chapter 3 of The Character of Physical Law:

"..the only utility of science is to go on and try to make guesses. So what we always do is to stick our necks out ... Of course this means that science is uncertain; the moment that you make a proposition about a region of experience that you have not directly seen then you must be uncertain... In order to avoid simply describing experiments that have been done, we have to propose laws beyond their observed range. There is nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that it makes science uncertain."

Qn 1:

Does Feynman suggest that physical laws are "inexact" or that they are "uncertain"; or does his use of the term "uncertain" equate to his use of the term "inexact"? Ans: I am willing to interpret "uncertain" here as equivalent of "inexact". Experimental observation is capable of turning the "uncertain" guess into a confirmation or otherwise of the validity of a physical law in a new region of experience, thus exploring its field of inexactitude. I also think it would be incorrect to take away from these passages a view that "all science is uncertain". It would be more correct to take away a view that some points of scientific knowledge are known with greater certainty/exactitude than others. This is primarily based on reading the two passages in the context of each other.

In other writings, Feynman seems to favour more what would be termed in every day language "uncertainty" than what would be termed "inexactitude". This is what I intend to look at in part 4 of this series, but here is a taster. It is from an essay The Value of Science which is the last chapter of Feynman's What do you care what other people think?.

"The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognise our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty - some unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain."

Qn 2:

Does this last passage say something different than the original quotation from The Character of Physical Law or does it say the same thing but using a different terminology? Ans: My view is that this last passage does represent a view that is less confident in the ability of the scientist to know the physical laws that nature manifests than the first. This is particularly so if we look at my First Thing Qn 3 above, which is suggesting/implying that The Character of Physical Law expresses a greater practical confidence in the knowledge gained by science.

Qn 3 (and, again, the most significant question): What does this all tell us about Feynman's view as to whether or not scientists' can really know the physical laws of nature? Ans: A full answer will have to wait until part 4, but herewith two indicators. Does Feynman's approach to the knowledge of nature prepare the ground for his atheism? Someone who considers science, which studies a nature that can be directly experienced, to be uncertain, is unlikely to be disposed to believe in God, of whom we have by and large only indirect experience. The second thing to bear in mind is that the thought expressed in The Character of Physical Law dates from 1964, while that from The Value of Science dates from a public address given in 1955, with a similar presentation in lectures given in 1963 (The Meaning of it all). There is a hermeneutical enquiry to be pursued here, both looking at the sequence in which Feynman's views were expressed and the context of the types of lectures involved. Or it might just be that The Character of Physical Law is atypical of Feynman's thought as a whole. See part 4!

Why do I stay in my trade union?

A comment has prompted me to provide an answer to this question.

1. Of their nature, trade unions contain a range of different views. This is because they are "political" organisations (with a small "p"). After the various political activities involved, a trade union might well adopt a particular policy position. However, that does not mean that everyone in the union supports the policy, and the politics involved bear witness to that. So just because I am a member of a certain union, it does not follow that I support every single one of its policy positions, and people do not/should not assume that.

2. Politics has aspects of collaboration with others of different views, and of trying to achieve what might be possible in imperfect circumstances. Many decisions about particular courses of action are primarily political - in other words, about what is the best way of a gaining a particular outcome. The outcome being sought might well derive from other principles, but one might well keep a low profile on one issue while you are working behind the scenes on another. Staying involved gives the opportunity to influence.

3. There do come points where one needs to make a stand. I, for example, resigned from the Executive Committee of my union when they adopted a policy paper on equality for LGBT staff and pupils in all educational settings, including pre-school settings. I did a news release that got some limited coverage in the Catholic press at the time. In various discussions with the then President and a newly appointed General Secretary, no-one could be under any illusions about my position. Three or four years later, at our recent annual conference, people still very clearly remembered the reason for my resignation. However, one can make a stand through writing letters to the union magazine, the General Secretary etc. This is what I now do.

4. About half of my work as a Branch Secretary is supporting or advising members with regard to their working lives. I see this as very much a part of my lay apostolate in the Church - using my professional expertise to work for justice for colleagues. My experience of casework is such that I would not now dream of being in a work place without access to the support of union membership.

5. Another, more general, view of things is to see union membership (and engagement with the union's processes) as part of dialogue between Christian faith and the world. Dialogue does need engagement, and membership allows that. At our recent conference I had an encouraging number of conversations with other Christian delegates.

On a more personal note, my mother was a trade union branch official in her youth. This was prompted by her membership of Young Christian Workers. So it never occurred to me to do anything else except join a union when I started work. What I do find amazing at school is just how unaware pupils are of trade unions and the work that they do.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

St Robert Bellarmine on faith and science

Posting on Richard Feynman brought back to mind a little piece of work I did way back in 1997 - a full ELEVEN years ago - when Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger, and we were in the preparatory years for the Great Jubilee. I was looking at the relationship between knowledge achieved through science and knowledge achieved through faith, and referred to a letter by St Robert Bellarmine. My source for the text of the letter is vol.2 pp.358-360 of James Brodrick's life of Robert Bellarmine, published in 1928.

In April 1615, St. Robert Bellarmine wrote a letter to the author of a book which had defended the Copernican view of the universe, clearly addressing the letter to Galileo as well. St. Robert Bellarmine fulfilled a role in the Church of his time similar to that of Cardinal Ratzinger in our own time. He was a man of great intellect and profound devotion. He was well informed about the state of contemporary scientific endeavour and seems to have had quite cordial communications with Galileo. His letter is strikingly modern, and very concisely presents an answer to the debate as it had come to be presented.

“..It seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely, as I have always understood Copernicus spoke..”

This is a reference to the fact that the Copernican view was an interpretation of astronomical observations. At least one other successful interpretation was possible [at that time], and it is in this sense that the Copernican view represented a “hypothetical” rather than an “absolute” claim. To accept it as a “hypothesis” in this sense was quite a different thing than accepting it as being the way things really were. [It did not, either, challenge its scientific status - the sense of the word "hypothesis" might today be communicated better using the term"mathematical model".]

“..If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe ... and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining the passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true..”

This is the critical passage in the letter. Underlying it is the conviction that the results of scientific study and the content of Christian faith are in harmony with each other. When science can offer convincing proof, then it is necessary to look again at the way in which Scripture is understood.

“But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me..I believe that the first demonstration (i.e. that the Copernican view is a workable hypothesis) may exist, but I have grave doubts about the second (i.e. the existence of proof that the Copernican view is the way things really are); and in the case of doubt one may not abandon the Holy Scriptures as expounded by the holy Fathers..”

This is an important balancing of the previously expressed willingness to look again at the way in which Scripture is understood. In the seventeenth century there really was not any absolute evidence of the earth’s movement through space. In the twentieth century there is, and, if he were alive today, St. Robert Bellarmine would accept that proof and be willing to understand Scripture differently as a consequence.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Catholic bishops on the "the bill", and the disorientation of ethical value

If you have been following the UK news media over the Easter weekend, Catholic bishops have had a high profile. Cardinal O'Brien in Scotland led off, with a strong attack on the human fertilisation and embryology bill, and was followed a day or two later by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor in England. They dominated the headlines for the weekend. The reaction took most of a day before they were organised enough to be noticeable in the broadcast media, and are today apparent in the print media. My own thoughts:

1. There can now be no doubt about the Catholic Church's opposition to the Bill. Many ordinary Catholics will welcome the clear lead given by the Bishops. I, for one, would like them to know of my support for their willingness to make such a clear public stance on the issue.

2. The news media are a particular "literary genre"! And to be effective in the media, you have to write or speak in that same genre. The allegation of "misrepresenting" the intentions of scientists, and the claim that statements about "monstrous" experiments are offensive to the scientists intending to undertake the work (these are based on Cardinal O'Brien's reported choice of phrase in his homily) need to be seen in this context. See also points 3 and 4 below.

3. The present bill might well only allow hybrid embryos to be created and kept for just two weeks, allowing stem cells to be taken from them. Some might not like the term "monstrous" being applied to such a two week hybrid (though it could be applied in a completely un-emotive and literal sense). But the next bill might well extend that to three weeks, and to four weeks, and to a month, and to .... And then the term "monstrous" might not be seen as offensive. I know from my own trade union experience how something is agreed for X, and within a month is being extended to include Y. So I think Cardinal O'Brien is quite right to have engaged with vigour in that "literary genre" that is the media.

4. Hidden behind all the public debate is an ethical one that is passed over in silence. The consequences of the proposed research using hybrid embryos is seen as beneficial (an assumption, possibility but not a certainty). In the media debate, the ethical justification of the research is consequentialist. However, that is not a universally held ethical belief system - it certainly is not one that the Catholic Church finds acceptable. But the "literary genre" that is the media does not allow a fuller ethical analysis that will look at the goods of the person, the goods required for genuine human flourishing, the most fundamental of which is the good of life itself. It is this good which is offended against by any form of embryo experimentation and destruction. But the idea that this research is intrinsically evil (ie opposed to the goods of human flourishing) and therefore not ethically permissible even thought it might have some apparently good consequences is not allowed to feature in the media debate. This is why the media coverage of 200 charities supporting the bill rather misses the point of the opposition to the bill.

5. The Catholic community are members of UK society just as any one else is. Just as charities and political parties have leaders who speak for their views, so Catholic bishops are entitled to speak for the views of their community. This is not a "moral blackmail", "dictating" to Catholic politicians as to how they should vote. It certainly makes clear to Catholic politicians where the Church stands on this matter, and this is something that politicians will bear in mind when they vote. But those politicians will still make their own choice of how to vote.

In summary: bravo to Bishops who have clearly stood up for the good of human life amidst a media that is unable to recognise anything other than the total disorientation of value that arises from consequentialist approaches.

This is the day that the Lord has made; we rejoice and are glad. Allelulia!

There is a feature of the Catholic blogosphere that I had not expected when I started to blog, and that has been a pleasant discovery. It might be termed a feature of "communion". In general terms, it is the way in which people share their own experiences of living a Christian life in their own particular place and circumstances. At Easter, this has meant the way in which people share the Easter celebrations in their own parishes. So, for example, Fr John has shared the way in which the Polish community gather for the blessing of food. Mulier Fortis also posted some pictures of the Triduum and Easter Day at Blackfen. In a completely different way, Rita posted a series of images of art that portrayed the events Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter morning. Since I don't really "do" art in a big way, this was quite powerful. And there are other examples out there, too.

There has also been the exchanging of Easter greetings that has taken place via the comment boxes! This post, which shows some photographs of my own parish Church, is intended as my own Easter greeting.

Monday 24 March 2008

Richard Feynman: part 3

In part 2, I picked up themes from the first two chapters of Richard Feynman's The Character of Physical Law. In this part, I want to look at a particular theme that occurs in the remaining chapters of that book. It is already there in what I said in part 2, but it is something that gains emphasis later in the book. It is a theme of unity in our knowledge of the world.

Chapter 3 looks at what Feynman calls "The great Conservation Principles". He looks at conservation of quantities like charge, energy, momentum and angular momentum. Feynman observes that, as far as we can tell today, what he terms the "great" conservation laws are absolutely accurate. Some others are only approximate, but are still useful. In concluding this chapter, Feynman writes (emphasis is mine):

"Discovering the laws of physics is like trying to put together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. We have all these different pieces, and today they are proliferating rapidly. Many of them are lying about and cannot be fitted with the other ones. How do we know that they belong together? How do we know that they are really all part of one as yet incomplete picture? We are not sure, and it worries us to some extent, but we get encouragement from the common characteristics of several pieces. They all show blue sky, or they are all made out of the same kind of wood. All the various physical laws obey the same conservation principles."

Towards the end of a chapter on the distinction between past and future, Feynman writes as follows:

".. an understanding of physical laws does not necessarily give you an understanding of things of significance in the world in any direct way. The details of real experience are often very far from the fundamental laws. We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies or levels... For example, we have at one end fundamental laws of physics. Then we invent terms for concepts which are approximate, which have, we believe, their ultimate explanation in terms of the fundamental laws. For instance, 'heat'."

Feynman outlines an ascent up a continuing "hierarchy of complexity" to the features of living beings (again, emphasis is mine).

"And then we go on, and we come to words and concepts like 'man', and 'history', or 'political expediency', and so forth, a series of concepts that we use to understand things at an ever higher level. And going on, we come to things like evil, and beauty, and hope ...

"Which end is nearer to God; if I may use a religious metaphor. Beauty and hope, or the fundamental laws? I think that the right way, of course, is to say that what we have to look at is the whole structural interconnection of the thing; and that all the sciences, and not just the sciences, but all the efforts of intellectual kinds, are an endeavour to see the connections of the hierarchies, to connect beauty to history, to connect history to man's psychology, man's psychology to the working of the brain, the brain to the neural impulse, the neural impulse to the chemistry, and so forth, up and down, both ways...

"And I do not think either end is nearer to God... And to stand with evil and beauty and hope, or to stand with the fundamental laws, hoping that way to get a deep understanding of the whole world, with that aspect alone, is a mistake. It is not sensible for the ones who specialise at one end, and the ones who specialise at the other end, to have such a disregard for each other. (They don't actually, but people say they do). The great mass of workers in between, connecting one step to another, are improving all the time our understanding of the world ... and in that way we are gradually understanding this tremendous world of interconnecting hierarchies."

Leaving aside for the moment the references to God, and what these references tell us about Richard Feynman's views on religion, there is here a clear affirmation that the physical sciences alone are not able to tell us everything about the world. At the very least, the human sciences must also be engaged. The reference to such ideas as evil, beauty and hope suggests that philosophy must be involved in our search to understand the world - as well as physics.

In this context, the last two paragraphs of the whole book are interesting (emphases are again mine):

"In this age people are experiencing a delight, the tremendous delight that you get when you guess how nature will work in a new situation never seen before. From experiments and information in a certain range you can guess what is going to happen in a region where no one has ever explored before...

"What is it about nature that lets this happen, that it is possible to guess from one part what the rest is going to do? This is an unscientific question: I do not know how to answer it, and therefore I am going to give an unscientific answer. I think it is because nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty."

I want to suggest that, in saying that the question is "unscientific" and in giving an "unscientific answer", Feynman is recognising that the question takes him from one level in the hierarchy of connections to another. The question is a philosophical one, not one about the physical laws themselves. It therefore deserves a philosophical answer, that is, an "unscientific answer", and not an answer determined from the physical laws themselves. The descriptor "unscientific" does not imply any illegitimacy in either the question or the answer. Or at least this is what I would like to think Feynman meant to say, though I must admit to not being absolutely sure that it is what he meant.

The reference to "simplicity" and "great beauty" can be clearly related to the suggestions of a unity in the physical world indicated above.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Easter Vigil

I took part in the Easter Vigil at the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Joseph, in Leigh-on-Sea. The photo shows the Easter Candle on its stand, the haze being the outcome of camera flash plus incense ... During the Vigil liturgy there were three adult baptisms and five receptions into full communion with the Catholic Church. Mass ended with the singing of the Regina Caeli.

An exercise in "stonewall-speak"

Since returning from Torquay, I have had a chance to read a recently produced position statement from the union about LGBT issues. Some excerpts, not in order of appearance. My comments in red.

"This position statement is based on existing research and educational thinking aruond these issues in the UK and elsewhere".

At conference, we were repeatedly told that ATL is a democratic, member led organisation. Surely a position statement should be based on members views, yes, informed by relevant research, but based on members views.

"Boys' and girls' sex/gender identities are developed under constant pressure and surveillance between and within male and female peer groups".

If one grants the legitimacy of the "are developed" in this sentence, there is one factor clearly missing. That is the physiology of the boys' and girl's bodies, which surely has a part to play in any development of identity. One should note the exclusion, rather selective it seems to me, of this factor in sex/gender identity. The "are developed" is, of course, quite questionable in any case.

"Heterosexism includes attitudes, behaviour and practices that constitute heterosexuality as the norm."

As I understand the statistics, even the figures most favourable to LGBT lobbyists indicate the proportion of people in society who identify as LGBT as being about 10%. This does appear to me to make heterosexuality the "norm" in the every day, statistical, and dare I say it, sociological, sense of that word. There is also the case to be made for the "norm" status of heterosexuality from the study of the natural sciences, which shows a clear move towards sexual reproduction in the higher living things.

"[cultural prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people] is firmly tied to dominant male and female identities that rely on heterosexuality as the norm."

By all means recognise the danger that a minority might be subject to unfair prejudice and discrimination - but it seems rather less than honest to do that by trying to re-define what is meant by "norm". And please recognise that not all people who hold heterosexuality as the norm are guilty of discriminatory behaviour.

Among the definitions of terms at the end of the statement:

"Gender generally refers to the social and cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity and indicates that a man or a woman's position is not dictated by nature, biology or sex, but is a matter of social and political convention."

So biology has nothing to do with being male or female? A person's position in society may not be dictated by nature, biology or sex - it can be affected by their activity, their opportunities, where they live, the help of others etc. Whether they are male or female can affect this position, for good or for ill, and, in some cases quite unfairly. But none of this is the same as suggesting that "gender" has nothing to do with "nature, biology and sex". This suggestion, which seems to be really what is going on here, completely re-defines the meaning of the word "gender".

"Sex refers more specifically to male or female physiology as biological constructs of the body".

The word "constructs" is completely loaded. It is a language of sociology or epistemology ("constructivism") - but it would be almost unknown in the field of the physical or biological sciences. To the scientist, male or female physiology is a "given" that is studied not something that is "constructed".

"In this document, we have used the term sex/gender to indicate that even the depiction of male and female physiognomy has depended on the social and political significance accorded to gendered notions of masculinity and femininity. Physiological difference as the 'natural' basis for gender difference therefore cannot be separated from social and cultural constructions of manhood and womanhood."

As it stands, I think this is complete gobbledygook [which is "pompous or unintelligible official, or professional, jargon" according to my dictionary]. Is the statement trying to say that sexual orientation (heterosexual, or LGBT) has nothing to do with the physiology of the human body? The first sentence, referring to "physiognomy" and not the totality of male or female physiology, may or may not be correct - I am sure there is an argument to be had both in favour of it and against it ("has depended on .." is not the same as "is determined by .."). However, the following sentence generalises the specific reference to "physiognomy" of the first sentence to the whole of "physiology" - a complete non sequitur.

This position statement takes part in a complete re-defining of language that is being undertaken by the LGBT lobby. This makes many of their statements pretty meaningless, unless you actually write in "stonewall-speak" yourself. One can see the LGBT lobby getting a little bit tangled in their own language. The attempt to divorce any idea of gender/sex from the physiology of the human body logically leads to saying that sexual orientation has no relation to the physiology of the human body either....

Friday 21 March 2008

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

This is where I went to Mass on Thursday evening - Buckfast Abbey. It is in theory about 20-30 minutes drive from Torquay, but took me somewhere approaching 80 minutes because of rush hour traffic. A visiting choir were singing Byrd's Mass for four voices, which seemed a bit incongruous at a Benedictine Abbey. The Abbey church functions as a parish church as well, and normally serves (I think) churches in two nearby villages. Given the dispersed nature of the population of the area, there was a very reasonable turn out for the Mass.

The Liturgy was celebrated in English with decorum and dignity - the "black" was said and the "red" was done, with the one exception of the washing of the feet, where more women were washed than men. The sanctuary in the abbey church is a long way from the congregation, being at the far end of the choir stalls. Nevertheless, it was possible to participate relatively easily.

The main church itself has some very beautiful altars, each with a reredos. The reredos of the high altar (covered on Thursday) shows Christ in his glory in heaven, with the Apostles receiving the tongues of fire of Pentecost. Two chapel altars dedicated to the Holy Cross and to Our Lady of Buckfast are very beautiful. The other altars are located down one side of the church, and are not free standing. A modern Blessed Sacrament chapel has been added on to the church, behind the high altar. Apart from its modern, "concrete" style, this chapel probably contains the only altar in the abbey church that does not have a reredos. It is very much a forward altar, with the tabernacle on a pedestal behind it. The high altar in the main sanctuary of the church is freestanding, but sufficiently close to its reredos for the altar to still form a unity with its reredos.

Could not free standing altars still be designed with a reredos? The abbey church at Buckfast provides a good example of how this enriches the beauty and theology of the altars.

Thursday 20 March 2008

The Torquay Conference: Day 3

At conference today (ie Wednesday - posting has been delayed by a temperamental wireless connection), I had an interesting conversation with a colleague who works at a Catholic School in Lancaster Diocese. My question was about how Bishop O’Donoghue’s recent initiative on Catholic schools was being received by a school in the diocese. My colleague characterised it as being “90% positives, 10% negatives”. He spoke positively about the involvement of parents, governors, and the general context of the “Fit for Mission” process.

Aspects identified as difficulties were as follows. The stance against Amnesty International is awkward for schools where the AI group is largely student run. It is quite difficult to suddenly say that they cannot do something that is an activity over which they have had a genuine ownership. Similarly, an initiative encouraging pupil reading, whereby pupils choose and draw down their books from the library, faced difficulties if the books the pupils are choosing were not approved of. Again, the question is one of pupil ownership.

During our conversation, what struck me was that these were difficulties that could be managed in a way that was fair to the students and faithful to Bishop O’Donoghue’s wishes for the schools in his diocese. The AI group, for example, could adopt a clear position that it did not support any campaigns relating to AI’s recently adopted policy with regard to abortion. AI’s rules do allow this, and it could be published to AI itself, and to the school community. Affiliation to Christian Solidarity Worldwide or Aid to the Church in Need might also be alternative approaches.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

The Torquay Conference: second day

I am away from home at the moment, depending on my hotel's free wireless connection in order to blog! I am in Torquay ("the English Riviera") for the annual conference of my trade union.

The highlights of today:

Resolution 15 about the "Cult of Celebrity". This motion was the subject of a survey of the union's members, and then some advance publicity last week. The Times Educational Supplement, the main newspaper for teachers in the UK carried a good spread on it on Friday, following an ATL press release. The motion called on the government and other relevant agencies to take action to promote positive role models of ordinary people across the media. I missed this debate, being on a coffee break at the time. However, among the speakers, one suggested that we should try to promote alternative role models to the Britney's etc. "How about Jesus Christ, who we celebrate later this week in his Passion, Death and Resurrection?" The motion was defeated - at least in part because the person proposing it is a bit of a contentious figure. Rather amusing considering the advance media coverage!

Resolution 17 about the impact of social dysfunction and family breakdown. I referred to this motion in an earlier post. Only two people spoke to this motion, one to propose and the other to second; no-one spoke against the motion. In his speech, the proposer very clearly referred to the research evidence that children from backgrounds where they were living with their two parents who are married were likely to do better at school. The stability of family structures is a key determinant in educational achievement. Whilst we recognise that single parents often do a good job in difficult circumstances, and we do not want to stigmatise in any way other family situations, it is necessary to have an openness and honesty about this evidence at the level of public policy making. The resolution called on ATL to "press the Government to recognise fully the extent to which social dysfunction and family breakdown are damaging the educational achievement of children and the performance of schools and colleges". It will now be interesting to see what the association's Executive Committee do with this one! The resolution has been proposed, and spoken to, with considerable political skill - the next stage will be to make sure that the Association delivers on what it has voted for here. I suspect that there may be some interesting reactions when people begin to recognise the implications of the resolution, and it will be important to make sure that the agenda addressed in the proposing speech is respected in the response of the Association.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Lourdes Magazine: March-April 2008

A day or two ago my copy of the March-April issue of Lourdes Magazine arrived. The "feature" topic in this issue is the international meeting of members of Hospitality, that took place in Lourdes 6th-9th December 2007. The Hospitality family has two parts: the diocesan/national hospitalities that accompany individual pilgrimages and the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes which provides services in the Shrine, its hostels, at the railway station and at the airport. The members of these Hospitalities are all volunteers who, paying their own way, spend some time in Lourdes helping the sick.

In recent years, the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes have put in place a four year programme of formation for their volunteers. This combines practical training in such matters as the handling of wheelchairs and simple lifting of the sick with a formation in the history and spiritual heritage of the Lourdes shrine. This formation leads up to a Hospitality member making their "commitment", the core of which is a promise to visit Lourdes each year to spend time helping the sick.

This, the second international meeting of Hospitality members, took as its theme Christian voluntary work. Reflecting the formation given to Hospitality members, the meeting reflected on how professional competence and Christian charity come together in the life and work of a Christian volunteer. Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, conducted a plenary session on the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and voluntary work:

"In turning towards God, new and specific elements enter into the manner in which we habitually see humanitarian aid - elements which the baptised Christian should not renounce....As the Pope says, the neighbour 'has always need of something more than technically correct care'. Beyond treatment he has need of 'humanity', 'care which ... comes from the heart.' It is necessary to be rooted in faith and attached to God in order to meet your neighbour."

Sr Veronique Margron OP is the Dean of the faculty of theology at the Universite de l'Ouest in Angers, France. A long extract from her presentation at the meeting is included in the Magazine under the title "Christian attitudes in voluntary work". The extract addresses the question of commitment, in the light of the commitment that Hospitality members make. This is a wide ranging presentation, talking about several aspects of commitment and essentially implying a certain permanence and totality to it. To give you a flavour:

"Your commitment as a volunteer assigns, commits everything you are. .... Commitment is a virtue. Volunteering lived as commitment is a virtue. This commitment generates the theological virtue of hope; fundamentally for the person herself."

This is very striking when volunteering is so often seen as something short term or temporary, a "gap year" kind of activity. Sr Veronique ended her presentation with a paragraph devoted to chastity:

"We could use just one word to qualify the proper attitude of the volunteer here in Lourdes as in any other Church service: chastity, in other words, the proper presence, the proper distance with the other, which is called benevolence and respect, which always considers the other, the person who is helped, my colleagues, as subjects of mystery and freedom - never like objects, not even objects of care or goodness. Hence the importance the whole Christian tradition gives to this beautiful word 'chastity': not as law but as an art of good living, a virtue, a way of life for each one of us and not for a few such as the religious. We are all called by Christ to live with chastity because it is the sign of the love of Christ who loved passionately without ever holding onto his friends, or those he helps, heals and feeds. It is the signature of his art of loving. Chastity is the opposite of the possession of the other. In this way, the closer we are to somebody, the more essential chastity is, like the proper way to love, which will truly do some good. This is then what I eventually invite you to do."

If you have the chance to read this issue of Lourdes Magazine, do so. It combines an attractive offering of news relating to the shrine with some substantial spiritual and theological food

Saturday 15 March 2008

Richard Feynman: part 2

As promised about a week ago, here is the second part of my reflection on the thought of physicist Richard Feynman. This post has been given an added relevance by the announcement during the past week of the award of the Templeton Prize to Fr Michael Heller, a Catholic priest, philosopher and physicist. Fr Heller's statement made on receiving the prize can be found on the Templeton Prize website at


In Chapter 1 of his book The Character of Physical Law, Feynman presents the law of Gravitation as an example of Physical Law, and draws out from it a description of what a physical law is. At the end of the chapter, he gives a summary of his conclusions, saying that what he has presented about the law of Gravitation is also true about all other physical laws. I have added emphases to make clearer the separate points that Feynman makes:

"First, it is mathematical in its expression; the others are that way too. Second, it is not exact; Einstein had to modify it, and we know it is not quite right yet, because we have still to put the quantum theory in. That is the same with all our other laws - they are not exact. There is always an edge of mystery, always a place where we have some fiddling around to do yet. This may or may not be a property of Nature, but it certainly is common to all laws as we know them today. It may be only a lack of knowledge.

"But the most impressive fact is that gravity is simple. It is simple to state the principles completely ... It is simple, and therefore it is beautiful. ... It is complicated in its actions, but the basic pattern or system beneath the whole thing is simple. This is common to all our laws; they all turn out to be simple things, although complex in their actual actions.

"Finally comes the universality of the gravitational law, and the fact that it extends over such enormous distances that Newton, in his mind, worrying about the solar system, was able to predict what would happen in an experiment [in a laboratory]... Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organisation of the entire tapestry."

It should be noted that, when Feynman says that laws are inexact he is not saying that they are wrong or incorrect; rather he is saying that they are open to, and indeed at certain points need, the greater precision that comes with furtherance of scientific knowledge. The word inexact has been well chosen here.

In Chapter 2 of The Character of Physical Law, Feynman considers further the relationship between mathematics and physical laws. One point that Feynman makes in this chapter is that the mathematician deals just with "theory" (my choice of words here, not Feynman's) or language that is mathematics, whereas the physicist has to make a connection between "theory" or language and a "real world". Again, I include some emphases of my own, which will be referred to below:

"Mathematicians are only dealing with the structure of reasoning, and they do not really care what they are talking about. They do not even need to know what they are talking about, or, as they themselves say, whether what they say is true."

A mathematician will represent a quantity by "x", and, after that, it is not critical to him or her exactly what "x" represents.

"In other words, mathematicians prepare abstract reasoning ready to be used if you have a set of axioms about the real world. But the physicist has meaning to all his phrases....(In) physics you have to have an understanding of the connection of words with the real world. It is necessary at the end to translate what you have figured out into English, into the world, into the blocks of copper and glass that you are going to do the experiments with."

Feynman also points out the possibility that, what is the same thing in the "real world" of physics, can be expressed by different forms in the language of mathematics. So, the law of Gravitation can equally well be expressed as a formula describing the force between two objects at a distance or as a formula describing a potential field in which a number expresses a gravitational property of each point in space. These different formulations might be exactly equivalent scientifically, but Feynman suggests that they can be very different "psychologically" (Feynman's choice of word). This is because when you are trying to find out new laws, or see how the laws apply in new situations, one formulation might turn out to be much more useful to the physicist than another. He also refers to the idea of a kind of scientific intuition, or the use of models and pictures of reality, that can be used to arrive at a new physical law. These can help, he says, but the bottom line is that, the greatest discoveries then

"abstract away from the model and the model never does any good".

Feynman continues:

"This shows again that mathematics is a deep way of expressing nature, and any attempt to express nature in philosophical principles, or in seat-of-the-pants mechanical feelings, is not an efficient way."

In concluding his chapter, Feyman writes:

"To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature .... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language [ie mathematics] that she speaks in. She offers her information only in one form; we are not so unhumble as to demand that she change before we pay any attention."

Feynman has deliberately, to use an expression I used in part 1, allowed the physics to speak for itself. However, now look at the emphases/emphases highlighted above and compare them to the philosophical expression of S L Jaki in his book Cosmos and Creator p.54:

"First, the material entities observed by science must be real, that is, existing independently of the observer ...Second, the material entities must have a coherent rationality. They must be governed by laws which can be formulated in a quantitative framework, and they must have a validity which transcends the limits of any particular time or location ...Third, those entities, because they are governed by consistent laws, must form a coherent whole, that is, must be subject to a consistent interaction ... Fourth, the form in which that coherent wholeness, or universe, does exist, cannot be considered .. a necessary from of existence. It is only one among countless others that are conceiveable. As to the question why such a universe does in fact exist, science has no answer....

"These four features of the universe are indispensable ... for making science possible."

So, I want to suggest, Feynman comes very close to offering what a philosopher might consider the necessary metaphysical conditions, that is, the necessary understanding of the way the world really is, for a self sustaining scientific enterprise just by letting the nature of the study of physics speak for itself ...

Friday 14 March 2008

Confession according to Rite 2 1/2 - illicit

Fr John Boyle has a post addressing two liturgical abuses that might occur around this time of (liturgical) year.

The first relates to communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Penance (Rite 2). Rite 2 involves a communal celebration, perhaps including a form of examination of conscience. The opportunity for individual confession is then available. In this context Fr John writes, citing the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, that these individual confessions should be integral confessions, and not simply occasions where the faithful mention just one sin.

"Neither is it acceptable for children or adults to be told that they need only confess one sin."

My own view, given the juridical nature of the Sacrament of Penance and the clear direction from the relevant Sacred Congregation, is that a "one sin only" confession will give rise to an absolution that is at best doubtful and, in all probability, invalid. [Comments please if your expertise is greater than mine and you disagree...]. It is certainly unlawful.

The second abuse that Fr John refers to is that of washing the feet of women during the Thursday evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. The rubric of the Roman Missal (Ordinary Form) is very clear that it is only men that should be chosen to have their feet washed.

See Fr John's post "Liturgical abuses at Easter Time" at for more details.

Regulator joins row

This is the headline for the following little snippet in today's London Times.

"The statistics regulator has written to the Department for Children, Schools and Families about how the publication of secondary school figures this week was handled. Ed Balls, the Children’s Minister, made a statement, based on unverified research, that some schools were breaking the admissions code. "

I haven't been able to find out more, but will keep an eye out!

Thursday 13 March 2008

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho RIP

The BBC's radio news bulletins this evening have reported the finding of the body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq. A full report from the Associated Press agency can be found at the International Herald Tribune website:

Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped as he left his cathedral, having celebrated the Stations of the Cross. This adds some poignancy to his killing. His death is marked by the Cross, to whose power he was giving witness in the moments just before he was kidnapped. It is likely that his death can be attributed to a hostility towards the Christian faith on the part of his kidnappers, allowing Archbishop Rahho to be considered a martyr - that is, one who witnessed to the Catholic faith to the point of giving his life for it.

I take the following from a post on Fr Tim's Hermeneutic of Continuity on 20th June 2007:

"On November 21st, 2004 while Layla, a mother of two orphans, was heading home at Al-Dawara in Baghdad, a fanatic Islamist thug stopped her and ordered her to take off her Cross so she could become clean again!Layla refused to remove her Cross using strict and polite words. The extremist Moslem reached to her Cross, snapped it off, threw it on the ground, then grabbed his gun and shot her in the head."

Fr Ragheed Ganni and three deacons were also murdered in Mosul - as they left Church after a celebration of Mass.

This Good Friday, it might be good to remember these contemporary martyrs as we celebrate the Liturgy of the Passion, with its veneration of the Cross. We can pray that the power and glory of the Cross will shine a little brighter in our lives because of their testimony.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Did yesterday's ministerial statement influence evidence given to Commons Select Committee?

I have just read a report of todays meeting of the House of Commons Select Committee for the DCSF on the Education Guardian website,,2264410,00.html.
An extract from the Guardian report makes reference to yesterday's statement by Ed Balls, Secretary of State at DCSF:

"Yesterday, the schools secretary, Ed Balls, admitted that "significant" numbers of schools were flouting admission rules, with some charging parents hundreds of pounds of secure places for their children and requesting details about marital status and family incomes. Balls said these breaches were found disproportionately in faith schools [Ed Balls did not refer to the religious character of these schools - see my post of yesterday] and in others that controlled their own admissions. Earlier, academics told the committee that they were not surprised to discover that some schools were abusing the rules to secure a secondary school place of their choice for their child."

Even recognising that this is an incomplete account of a full mornings evidence, it seems to be clear that yesterday's ministerial statement has had an influence on the way in which evidence was given before the Select Committee.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Disingenuity at the DCSF? (or, how to steer a Select Committee)

The electronic news media - and, no doubt, tomorrow the print media - will feature the announcement from the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) that some schools have not been complying with the revised School Admissions Code that came into effect for the September 2008 new intakes.

Here is part of the statement by the Secretary of State at DCSF, Ed Balls, with my emphases and my comments (the full statement is on the DCSF website at

"The new School Admissions Code prohibits those criteria and practices that could be used by schools to unfairly select children. For overseas readers, most schools in the UK are comprehensive, that is, they do not select pupils on academic ability. Fairness of admissions criteria is intended to put this into practice. The new Code has been widely welcomed across the education sector and by faith groups ... Note this - all the organisations representing the major providers of Church schools, such as the Catholic Education Service, have strongly supported the new Code, and so are not likely to defend non-compliance

"In January I also asked officials to undertake, for the first time and for internal purposes, an analysis of the published admissions arrangements for 2008 in three local authority areas in order to sample the level of compliance. Having considered the evidence gained from this sample I believe that it is right that it should be made public and acted upon now ... Why? The data is as yet unverified (see below), and the analysis was undertaken for internal purposes. What has happened to make the "internal purpose" now a public one? I may be cynical, but do I detect a (hidden) political motive? Let's read on ....

"Initial evidence across these 3 local authorities suggests that the large majority of schools appear to be complying with the Code, including an overwhelming majority of academies and schools where local authorities are the admission authority. However, a significant minority of schools in our sample appear not to be compliant with the Code, of which a disproportionate number are voluntary aided or foundation schools". Now, lets try and work out what this means. The "large majority" will include some voluntary aided and foundation schools, and the "significant minority" looks as if it includes some schools that are not voluntary aided or foundation schools. So it is quite possible that there are more voluntary aided and foundation schools that are compliant with the new Admission Code than not. Why does this matter? Virtually all Catholic schools are voluntary aided schools, and these schools (and foundation schools) decide their own admissions policies, though these policies must be compliant with the Admissions Code. Other faith schools are sometimes voluntary aided. So, though the Secretary of State has been careful not to refer to the religious character of most voluntary aided schools, he has nevertheless allowed the impression to be created that it is schools with a religious character that are not complying with the Admissions Code.

The DCSF has written to the three sample local authorities, and voluntary aided and foundation schools in their areas that appear not to be compliant with the Code, to verify their information Ah, but I wonder if they are going to verify the situation of those schools that "appear to be complying", which would of course give them a robust data set on that side as well as on the non-compliance side - but still felt able to make today's statement before the information is verified.

The Commons order paper for today just indicates "Ministerial Statements (if any)", and there also seems to have been a rather makeshift media operation in place (the copy of the statement that I have seen through my trade union network is faxed, incomplete and partially illegible; and the statement appears to have found its way on to the DCSF website a good 2-3 hours after the news first hit the broadcast media), suggesting that the presenting of this statement has been rushed to get it out today rather than, say, tomorrow or Thursday or Friday. The electronic and broadcast media attention will therefore be taking place on Tuesday afternoon/evening, with the print media attention on Wednesday morning.

So what is special about Wednesday morning?

Bishop O'Donoghue and others are due to give evidence to a meeting of the Commons Select Committee that shadows the DCSF. The purpose of that meeting? To examine the place of faith schools in the education service. Am I being too cynical?

A last point to note: the Secretary of State has, in his statement, announced a series of steps to ensure an end to some of the non-compliant practices that were identified in the (unverified) sample data. But, notice, none of these steps in any way relate to the religious character or otherwise of the schools concerned. So even if we grant that it is schools with a religious character that are breaching the code (and that I don't grant), the non-compliant practices do not relate to the religious character of the school anyway.

Monday 10 March 2008

A Marian charism is an ecclesial charism

One of my roles is that of a lay equivalent to a spiritual director to the praesidium of the Legion of Mary in my parish. The Legion system does allow for this in "special circumstances". The role involves preparing the "allocutio", or short address, given each week as part of the praesidium meeting. This week's effort seemed to go down quite well, so here it is. I was reflecting on the idea that the work of a Marian apostolate is at once also the work of an apostolate deeply rooted in the Church, something that is suggested by Vatican II's inclusion of its teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church.

Spiritual Reading: from The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.11-12

The object of the Legion of Mary is the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation, under ecclesiastical guidance, in Mary's and the Church's work of crushing the head of the serpent and advancing the reign of Christ.

Subject to the approval of the Concilium, and to the restrictions specified in the official handbook of the Legion, the Legion of Mary is at the disposal of the bishop of the diocese and the parish priest for any and every form of social service and Catholic action which these authorities may deem suitable to the legionaries and useful for the welfare of the Church. Legionaries will never engage in any of these services whatsoever in a parish without the sanction of the parish priest or of the Ordinary.

By the Ordinary in these pages is meant the local Ordinary, that is, the bishop of the diocese or other competent ecclesiastical authority.

“(a) The immediate end of organisations of this class is the apostolic end of the Church; in other words: the evangelization and sanctification of men and the Christian formation of their conscience, so as to enable them to imbue with the Gospel spirit the various social groups and environments.
“(b) The laity, cooperating in their own particular way with the hierarchy, contribute their experience and assume responsibility in the direction of these organisations, in the investigation of the conditions in which the Church's pastoral work is to be carried on, in the elaboration and execution of their plan of action.
“(c) The laity act in unison after the manner of an organic body, to display more strikingly the community aspect of the Church and to render the apostolate more productive.
“(d) The laity, whether coming of their own accord or in response to an invitation to action and direct cooperation with the hierarchical apostolate, act under the superior direction of the hierarchy, which can authorise this cooperation, besides, with an explicit mandate."

(Vatican Council II Apostolicam Actuoisitatem (Decree on the apostolate of lay people) n. 20)

Vatican II and an ecclesial dimension of Legionary activity

Lumen Gentium Chapter VIII: the Council’s teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary is included in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, suggesting that a Marian apostolate such as that of the Legion of Mary has an ecclesial aspect:

“Your proper vocation as lay people, that is the vocation to be a leaven in the People of God, a Christian inspiration in the modern world, and to bring the priest to the people, is eminently ecclesial.”[1]

1.1 Practical directions for the Legion apostolate

-all Legionary activity is undertaken in communion with the hierarchy of the Church, most commonly meaning that the Legion will not undertake activity in an area without the permission of the local bishop and parish priest.

-all Legionary activity is undertaken in obedience to the charism of the Legion, a charism that is recognised by the Church through frequent approvals by the Holy See and by Bishops[2], and by recognition by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in its directory of international organisations of the faithful; in practice, this obedience to charism means implementing the Legion system exactly as it is expressed in the Official Handbook

-particular activities of a Legion praesidium might arise from the direction of the bishop or parish priest; or from the initiative of the Legionaries themselves

-the work of the Legionary is controlled by the praesidium, to whom the Legionary reports each week

1.2 Consequences for an attitude among Legionaries

-an attitude of obedience to the Legion system and loyalty to obligations of Legion membership, eg weekly meeting, work obligation

-an attitude of obedience to the hierarchy of the Church, as it is manifested locally - ie the local bishop and parish priest; this should extend to avoiding criticism of them both internally and externally to the Legion

-an attitude of charity towards all, so that Legionaries act together in the apostolate

-a Marian attitude of disposability: “behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word”

[1] cf Pope John Paul II, cited in Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.5
[2] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.5-6, 330-334

Bishop O'Donoghue

This is how Bishop O'Donoghue appears on the billing on the Parliament website for the meeting of the Department for Children, Schools and Families Commons Select Committee on Wednesday 12th March:

9.30am in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House
Evidence from: Rebecca Allen, Researcher, Institute of Education, University of London; Professor Mark Halsted, Head, Department of Community and International Education, University of Huddersfield; Professor Audrey Osler, Research Professor, University of Leeds and Director, Centre for Citizenship and Human Rights Education (CCHRE); and Professor Anne West, Professor of Education Policy, and Director, Education Research Group, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Followed by at approximately 10.45am: Evidence from: The Right Reverend Stephen Venner, The Bishop in Canterbury and Bishop of Dover; The Right Reverend Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster; and Peter Irvine CBE, Catholic Education Service.

The purpose of the meeting is "to examine faith schools and their place within the school system".

According to Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, quoted in the Observer on 30th December 2007, 'A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on,' he said.

I wonder whether the other witnesses are going to feel that they have been "summoned" in the way that I suspect Bishop O'Donoghue does?

The first group of witnesses includes two who would be described as critical of faith schools (Allen and West have recently presented research critical of what they see as segregation caused by faith schools admissions). Halstead would be characterised as supporting faith schools.

One wonders, though, whether an impartial enquiry can be chaired by someone who has gone on the record as saying that, 'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith.'

Sunday 9 March 2008

A few days of chaos ...

As I write, I have just returned from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham. I was there for a residential weekend for the students following Maryvale's initial teacher training course (PGCE). These students are now in the "final run" of their course - they will, God willing, qualify in July. The Saturday evening session asked each student to present in 7 minutes their "best lesson". This was a fascinating session, with the students displaying a huge dose of enthusiasm both for teaching and for the subject matter of RE. In the context of Bishop O'Donoghue's visit to the House of Commons Select Committee for Education on Wednesday of this coming week, it might be of interest to note that something approaching half of the students in this group of 19 are not Catholics (one student is a Muslim). So much for authentic Catholic education being divisive!

During my visit, I also had a welcome opportunity over lunch to meet Fr Francis Marsden, a busy (very busy!) parish priest from Lancashire. I first met Fr Francis in student days, and many will know him from a column in the Catholic press.

Part of my time was spent with the students, part in meetings to do with the development of the PGCE course. I have, needless to say, come away with a job list. An interesting prospect that I have coming up in May is the writing of some materials on non-written assessment strategies. The brief I have is to write this material from my work as a science teacher (ie just put in ideas I use in my own teaching - now that is how to write a course book!). I then plan to set activities for the students to do that will get them to take my ideas from science teaching and transfer them to their RE teaching.

OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) are visiting Maryvale to inspect the PGCE course in May, something else I need to get my head round....

On Friday, before travelling to Maryvale on Saturday morning, I had looked after our "first Friday" Eucharistic Adoration in the parish. For the Holy Hour, we prayed the Stations of the Cross using meditations adapted from those used by Pope John Paul II at the Colosseum on Good Friday in the Jubilee Year. An encouraging attendance for the Holy Hour. With the children I used just four stations - but I could have been a bit better organised with them!

All of which contributed to giving me a few days of chaos ....

Thursday 6 March 2008

Richard Feynman: part 1

This is a post for the physicists among you, and is the first in what I am expecting will end up being a series of four. Please read all four, especially the last, if you want to get a complete picture of what I want to say about Feynman. I hope to post the four instalments at the rate of one a week.

But first, for those who are not physicists, an introduction to Richard Feynman. He was born in New York in 1918, graduated with a BSc from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939 and completed his PhD at Princeton in 1942. He worked during the war years at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory - ie as part of the huge team of scientists and engineers assembled in the middle of nowhere to develop the atomic bomb. Most of the physicists of any note were involved in this project one way or another. Feynman was subsequently professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University and then, most famously, at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). There, beginning in 1962, he delivered a course of introductory lectures to undergraduates as part of a renewal of the physics teaching at Caltech. These lectures, published from tape recordings in three volumes as the Feynman Lectures on Physics, form the heart of his reputation as an able communicator of his science. One of his last scientific contributions was as a member of the enquiry into the Challenger shuttle disaster. Oh, and he won a Nobel prize along the way. This was in 1965, when he shared the prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics (ie the theory of how light interacts with matter, and in particular with electrons) for which he developed a novel and powerful method of calculation. [Aside for the physicists: interestingly, the idea of using probability amplitude vectors on which this method of calculation is based now appears in the teaching materials of the Advancing Physics A-level physics course here in the UK.] Feynman died in 1988.

It is probably truer to say of Feynman that he was a great communicator of physics than to say that he was a populariser of physics. A book such as QED The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, which is a collection of four lectures on quantum electrodynamics delivered/written for a non-specialist audience, is still available in paperback some 20 years after first publication. But it has never attracted the glamourous public attention given to that far, far inferior book by Stephen Hawkings, A brief history of time. I think there are two reasons for this, and they are both reasons that mean I find Feynman attractive as a writer about physics:

1. There is no compromising of the physics content, either in terms of the range of the content or in terms of the depth of treatment. There is an attempt to make it comprehensible without all the busy equations, and so make it accessible, but you can read the book and feel that you get properly to grips with the physics. This is not possible with most "popular physics" writing, and certainly not true of Hawkings, where the physics content is emasculated when compared to Feynman's writing.

2. Feynman talks/writes about the physics - without any overlay of philosophy or ideology. He lets the physics speak for itself, and lets it show its own intrinsic metaphysics/ epistemology [its "own" expression of the reality of things/its "own" expression of how we come to know things when we do physics].

To give you a flavour, here are a couple of quotations found pretty much at random from a collection of essays based on the Lectures on Physics. They appear in a book called Six Easy Pieces:

"In this chapter, we begin our more detailed study of the different aspects of physics , having finished our description of things in general." [my emphasis - note the readiness with which our ability to describe things themselves is expressed here.]

At the beginning of the next chapter:

"In this chapter we shall discuss one of the most far-reaching generalizations of the human mind. While we are admiring the human mind, we should take some time off to stand in awe of a nature that could follow with such completeness and generality such an elegantly simple principle as the law of gravitation." [Note here the very easy acceptance of a correlation between our ability to know and the reality that is known.]
The book by Feynman that I want to look at in particular is one called The Character of Physical Law, so if you want to read ahead, that is the book to start on!

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Covenant between a Roman Catholic and Anglican parish

The following has been taken from the website of the Roman Catholic Parish involved in this Covenant. I have (1) anonymised the two parishes involved as far as I can, but I can't do that to the photo and (2) given the full text as it appeared so that readers can see the full context. This seems to me to respect the needs of charity and fairness towards those involved. There were one or two more photographs on the original that I have not included. My comments are in red. Whilst the encouraging of positive relationships between Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes is a requirement of both charity and ecumenism, I am not sure that a covenant like this really delivers. It might be the case that content of this particular covenant is too extensive, and some of the highlighted problems might have been avoided by a much simpler covenant.

A COVENANT between The Roman Catholic Parish of ......and The Anglican Parish of St .....

A very moving and well-attended service was held in St ......., on Friday 25th January 2008, The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. Here we joined with our brothers and sisters at our neighbouring Anglican parish of St a service of thanksgiving, during which the Covenant between our two parishes was signed. It appears to have been a very nice - and appropriately timed - occasion of Christian fellowship.

One could easily look at this photograph and "see" something that I don't believe was intended - no difference between the Roman Catholic priest and the Anglican priest. This could represent a serious pastoral problem - Roman Catholic parishioners might see it as a kind of recognition of Anglican orders and legitimacy vis a vis the Roman Catholic Church, and Anglican parishioners might also see it as that! I really don't know how, on occasions such as this, the photo opportunity can be managed to avoid this problem ...

Monsignor .....and Canon ...... signed the Covenant first, followed by the Chairmen of the two Parochial Parish Councils.

Fr ....., Fr ..... , Fr ...., Fr ....., Deacon ....... and Fr ...... [again, one cannot differentiate between the Roman Catholic priests and the Anglican] were joined by the Combined Girls' Choirs of the two parishes, directed by ........(Assistant Organist and Director of the Girls' Choir at St ......) and ........(Organ Scholar and Director of the Girls' Choir at the Parish of ......). ......(Director of Music at the Parish of ....) and ......... (Director of Music at St ........) were also present.

A dramatic reading by the Youth Group from St ...... portrayed the conversion of St Paul, as the scales fell from his eyes and he saw the true path.

An Act of Commitment was also read by representatives from the two parishes in which amongst other things we promised to pray for one another, for unity in the Church and for peace in the world. After the service a very joyful meeting with refreshments took place in the ....... Parish Hall. Again, appears to have been a quite appropriate occasion of Christian fellowship.

Historical Context of the Covenant

This Covenant between our two parishes is part of an ongoing tradition of ecumenical dialogue and of reconciliation through the grace of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice that our parishes have much in common, in our beliefs and in our liturgy [literally, this may be correct, but does it give an impression of much more? The parishes might have much in common as far as the liturgy goes, but if the essential core is not there in one of the parishes...]. In particular, both parishes recognise the eucharist as the source and summit of Church life, in which Christians of every time and place are united and the Church on earth is joined to the Church in heaven [But do both parishes really have the celebration of the Eucharist, as is implied here? The Anglicans might believe so, but the Roman Catholics should not]. It is therefore a cause of deep sadness that Christ’s body, the Church, has become divided so that we are not able to share the eucharist [Anglican eucharist implied as equivalent to Roman Catholic?] with one another. The expression of sadness does reflect an authentic ecumenical sense.

Since the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Communions have been in constant dialogue. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has published a number of documents vital to our common life and union. These theological studies, along with the discussions that led to them and which flow from them are bringing a growing agreement in faith and support our pilgrimage toward full Church unity, [subtlety needed here - the Roman Catholic view would be that there is one sense in which full unity already exists, another in which it is still to be sought - but the intent of this sentence is OK]which is Christ’s will. This journey has been marked by several meetings between successive Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury, beginning with the meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI in 1966.

Sadly, developments within the Anglican Communion over recent decades have introduced obstacles to unity both within the Anglican Communion and between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Whilst such developments have made dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole more difficult, that should not prevent us from taking the opportunity to continue dialogue at a more local level. A note of realism here that seems in tension with the reference to "growing agreement in faith" in the preceding paragraph.

We hope and pray that this covenant between the Anglican Parish of St ......, and the Roman Catholic Parish of .........., will become part of a wider journey towards unity and full communion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and that one day Christ will bring all Christians into that final union which he alone can give.

+ In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

With gratitude to God, we publicly proclaim our faith in the Holy Trinity and our belief in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ who prayed for us and for all who are His Church, “that all may be one.” Baptized into the mystery of God’s holy life, we, Monsignor ......and Canon ......., in the name of our Churches do solemnly enter into this covenant.

We affirm our common beliefs: these attempt to express beliefs that are common, so it is perhaps legitimate that some key Roman Catholic beliefs are not fully expressed - but that does create a potential for pastoral problems if the Anglican parishioners take it that these beliefs fully express a Catholic position

- that God has revealed himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that sacred scripture and the apostolic tradition, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bear witness to this perfect revelation. [no mention of the magisterium]

- that the unity of the Church is God’s will; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that manifests the mystery of the Triune God, and one we seek to bring into rightful expression [an extremely clever choice of words, but it does actually leave completely undefined what "rightful expression" means with the possibility that it means different things to the two parishes involved] in our communions.

- that Christ Jesus, Saviour of the World, is present to us in His Church [a use of the word "Church" that really needs more precision - it could be taken here to refer to at least three different things] through the sacraments [how many?] and that they make present His victory over sin and death; moreover in the sacrament of the eucharist we believe Christ to be truly and substantially present under the forms of bread and wine, [the Roman Catholics will believe this to be so in the celebrations in their own parish, but they won't believe it to be so in the Anglican celebrations; a good can be seen in the sense in which this statement was intended, but I wonder what impression it is creating in the two parishes involved?] and that sharing in this sacrament would be the fullest expression of Christian unity.

- that Christ has given to His Church order and authority [again, no real expression of magisterium as a binding teaching authority], expressed chiefly through the ministry of the bishops, as successors to the apostles.

- that Christ draws all people to himself from every nation and tongue, every race and people, and bestows a special dignity upon all men and women, who are created in the image of God. fine

- that our hearts and minds will continue to be nourished by the Word of God in Scripture and the action of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Church. Fine

- that prayer is an essential part of the work of the Church and the life of the individual believer, and that through prayer we can express our desire for unity. Fine, and echoes Pope Benedict XVI's references to "spiritual ecumenism" during his visit to Cologne in 2005

- that Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church is a model of holiness, faith and obedience, and that her prayers, together with those of all the saints, aid us in our pilgrimage. Fine, and encouraging to see this recognised by the Anglican parish.

- that the diversity of gifts and graces in the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions [I think the sense in which this is intended is a good one, though, as recognised above, there is a diversity within the Anglican communion that is actually an obstacle to unity] will enrich the celebrations we share and the dialogues we pursue.

- that with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we pray that we will be enabled to overcome the separations which currently keep us apart. Spiritual ecumenism.

We commit ourselves:

- to pray for each other and with each other and to ask the faithful of our communions to pray for one another especially at Mass. Again, the implication of an equivalence between Mass celebrated in the two parishes, which would not be recognised by the Catholic parish

- to seek to remove any obstacle to union whilst maintaining the traditions of our communions.

- to pray for unity in the Church, with the special intention that one day we will both be able to share the Eucharistic Communion at the same altar.

- to pray together for peace, justice, dignity and solidarity for our society and for the resolution of hostilities in other parts of the world.

- to pray for the leadership of our Churches; for wisdom and prudence in response to the needs in our dioceses, the nation and the world.

- to support those who live an Anglican-Roman Catholic covenant in their families [this I do find an interesting idea - it is possible to very glibly assume that every marriage between an Anglican and a Roman Catholic should be seen as an ecumenical sign, a sign of the future unity of the churches, but I don't think it is an assumption that can be made for most mixed marriages. However, as a charism - ie a specially given gift of the Spirit, given to a particular couple - I think it is a possibility. It would be interesting to see a pastoral strategy that can effectively promote this] . to collaborate in planning liturgical [care and discernment needed!], educational [care and discernment needed!], and social programmes [this has the greatest possibilities] and sharing physical and human resources whenever possible.

- to seek unity in teaching the Christian moral life. Well expressed, I think, but there are clearly limits to what might be achieved here.

- to support the proclamation, the living out and the annual renewal of this covenant.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20, 21


The Right Reverend Monsignor ........,
The Reverend Canon ........

Together with the lay chairs of the respective parish councils