Monday 28 April 2008

Jerome Lejeune and a success for gene therapy

The news media have today reported a successful treatment (as part of a clincial trial) of an inherited eye disease using a technique of gene therapy. This is part of the report on the BBC news website:

An 18-year-old whose sight was failing has had his vision improved in a pioneering operation carried out by doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital. The London researchers used gene therapy to regenerate the dying cells in Steven Howarth's right eye. As a result he can now confidently walk alone in darkened rooms and streets for the first time.

Steven, from Bolton, is the third person to have the operation - doctors expect better results in future cases. Before the procedure, he could hardly see at all at night and in time he would have lost his sight completely.

His condition - Leber's congenital amaurosis - was due to a faulty gene that meant that the light-detecting cells at the back of his eye were damaged and slowly degenerating further.

But, in a delicate operation, surgeons at Moorfields injected working copies of the gene into the back of Steven's eye.

As I listened to this news on the radio, I was reminded of the person who first identified a link between a specific genetic defect and a resulting illness. The illness concerned was Down's Syndrome, and the geneticist Jerome Lejeune. It was the aim of Jerome Lejeune's research that the discovery of this link would lead to the development of a cure. A similar intention lay behind the work of Professor Liley, originally from New Zealand, who first invented the technique of pre-natal diagnosis. Sadly, both men saw their discoveries diverted from their original objectives towards selective abortion of those identified in the womb as being disabled.

In some way at least, today's news represents a fulfilment of their work. The potential of gene therapies to revolutionise medicine is beginning to become a reality. And, at the very beginning of this development, lies the work of Jerome Lejeune.

My own direct memory of Jerome Lejeune is seeing him chairing a question and answer session at the end of a conference in Oxford, just a few months before he died in April 1994. This he did in a way that can only be described as "fatherly", and I had to remind myself of his immense moral and intellectual stature. Having since read "Life is a Blessing", the biography of Jerome Lejeune written by his daughter Clara, this was entirely in character.

Ten Bridges Walk

I spent Sunday afternoon walking from Tower Bridge to Albert Bridge. This was taking part in LIFE London Regions "Ten Bridges" sponsored walk.

Two nephews setting off for Citizen Ken's palace.

Some of the people we met along the way - though Faraday was outside the Institute of Electrical Engineers, he is a physicist really....

... Oliver Cromwell ...

.... the burghers of Calais ....

.... St Thomas More ....

In the sunlight after a shower of rain, the pagoda in Battersea Park looked particularly splendid.

Saturday 26 April 2008

William Hague: Practical Politics, Principled Faith

I have just read the transcript of William Hague's lecture at Westminster Cathedral. This was delivered last Thursday, the latest in the series of "Cardinal's Lectures". If you go to the Cardinal's Lectures page on the Westminster Archdiocese website, and follow the relevant links, you will find the transcript.

I found this the most interesting and informative of the lectures so far, partly because I have not read much about William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade and partly becuase I think the lecture communicates very well William Hague's own genuine interest in the topic and in its implications for the present day.

I make no apology for including in this case a heavy dollop of history for this is history that should inspire the minds and lift the hearts of generations to come.

What I found the most interesting part of the transcript is where William Hague identifies the lessons that can be drawn from the story of the abolition of the slave trade and applied to present day circumstances. He starts by recognising two things that the campaigners brought to their activity that other political activists could not have supplied.

For first, they brought breathtaking stamina, a determination to pursue their objective irrespective of the time taken to achieve it ...Their utter conviction that they would be judged on their work left them not only unwilling to give up a cause they had adopted but, in their own minds, unable to do so, since they believed their cause had been set before them by God.

Secondly, these people, due to their decision to engage in public life rather than abstain from it, brought to their campaign to abolish the slave trade something without which it could not have succeeded, and the absence of which left it a far weaker cause across most of Western Europe, namely, an ethical framework and unshakeable moral force. .... For although they exploited a measure of national self-interest to destroy part of the Atlantic slave trade, no amount of self-interest on its own would have dictated the total and permanent abolition of a large lucrative trade, and the deployment of the Royal Navy to interdict it on the high seas. In the end, a “fit of altruism” was required from a British Parliament not normally used to such feelings. They had to be persuaded that, in the words of Wilberforce, involvement in the slave trade was, “A national crime of the deepest moral malignity....a system of the grossest injustice, of the most heathenish irreligion and immorality, of the most unprecedented degradation, and unrelenting cruelty”.

These two aspects, brought to the campaign by people of strong religious belief, would today be described in Catholic thinking as a manifestation of Christian conscience. The campaigners acted in response to the promptings of their conscience, a conscience informed by their Christian faith. What mattered to them was that they stood and worked for what was right, even if the prospects of success were not good. It is a very good example of "acting in accord with your conscience" because it shows itself as obedience to an obligation, not as deciding for yourself, and it illustrates how such action is primarily prompted by one's own sense of worth rather than by any intention to be critical of the morality of others.

William Hague goes on to identify two further lessons:

...what was out of sight for so long to the British public and its leaders was deemed for many decades to be acceptable to them. In a world without photographic or recording devices, the people of Britain could not see the slaves being shackled in the narrow confines of the slave ships, they could not smell the terrible conditions aboard such a vessel in mid-Atlantic, and they could not hear the weeping of the families separated and sold in the slave markets of Barbados and Jamaica. It was only when the facts and evidence were laid before them that thinking people concluded that, in the words of the great campaigner, Thomas Clarkson, “some person should see these calamities to their end”.

... When the British slave trade was abolished in 1807, the bicentenary of which we have recently celebrated, the campaigners believed they were, “laying the axe at the very root” of slavery itself. But in fact it would turn out that as long as slavery remained legal and acceptable a huge slave trade would continue, either in defiance of the laws of Britain or under cover of the laws of others. As long as the end use, the state of slavery, was tolerated, the trade in slaves could not be annihilated.

The lessons for today are that hidden injustices need to be brought into the open for people to see and therefore to drive change in society, and the end use or demand for unjust or immoral activity needs to be removed before a trade in it will disappear altogether.

William Hague identifies three different sources of financial profit from international organised crime that in some ways parallel the former slave trade: the trade in illegal drugs, the trade in weapons and trafficking in people. You can perhaps readily see how all four of the lessons previously identified can be applied to these three phenomena. I found most thought provoking the fact that the arms trade was included here, identifying both the scale of the violence that it fuels and the thought that some 95% of illegal arms sales have their origin in legal sales - legal safeguards are clearly ineffective.

One could add to William Hague's three contemporary examples the question of abortion, though to be accurate to his lecture, I should point out that William Hague does not include it. Those who are active in the pro-life movement can perhaps recognise ways in which it addresses all four of the lessons that William Hague draws from the story of the abolition of the slave trade.

For all four of these issues there is a contribution to campaigning for change that religious believers can make that others cannot. Speaking of modern day human trafficking, William Hague concluded his lecture with words that could be applied to all four issues:

Just as a moral context, stretching out across society, and ultimately across nations was necessary to complete the abolition of the old slave trade, so it is needed now. It is needed to raise awareness of the cruelty, subjugation and deception in our midst. It is needed to change the values and mindsets of the end users of modern slavery, whether their use of it is deliberate or incidental. And, it is needed to change the climate in which business and political decisions are made, so that businesses know they must prohibit the use of slave labour and that other countries sign the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

I believe this twenty-first century slave trade, this scourge of the modern world which brings misery to millions can be defeated. But it will only be defeated if we challenge the traffickers’ dominance by simultaneously attacking supply and demand through a strong international alliance of different groups: governments, politicians, faith-based organisations, charities, businesses and grassroots campaigners, with a shared common purpose. We all must collaborate, and reinforce each other’s efforts, focusing heart, soul, mind and strength, to destroy every trace of this “crime of the deepest moral malignity”. We need once again principled faith to play its role in practical politics. And I doubt that we could do without it.

Thinking Faith - a relativisation of reason

The Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith carries an article "Reasonable Catholicism: Interpreting the Whole Text". In some ways, this article makes interesting reading. I ended up feeling, though, that it presented a very tired argument. That having been said, why do I think it is worthy of a critique?

Firstly, the author is currently a university chaplain working with Catholic students. An article in an on-line academic journal may not be a fair indicator of his apostolate with the students. If it is, though, I feel that the students deserve better than this.

Secondly, the question of the relationship between faith and reason is a prominent theme for Pope Benedict XVI. The relativisation of reason that I believe is expressed in this article can completely undermine how Pope Benedict, and indeed Pope John Paul II before him, is understood on this issue.

The tiredness of the ideas presented in this article is summarised in the introductory paragraph (my emphasis):

If the Christian faith is a ‘religion of the book’, a tradition handed down through the centuries, how are we to make sense of that book and that tradition
when we speak today in a very different language?

Unstated, but implied, is a questioning of the ability of language to express reality, a questioning of the ability of reason (seen as a faculty of the human person) to know the truth of the world. A very tired idea!

The article is not based on a coherent idea of what reason is:

This leaves ‘reasonable’ still surprisingly vague. Unfortunately, one of the things that we are going to have to cope with is that ‘reason’ is not as precise a concept as we would all like it to be. ... The vast edifice of teaching that articulates the ambiguous narratives of scripture into a coherent whole itself needs interpretation in the light of new reason and reasoning. It is essentially incomplete. ... But then are not all commandments within the tradition, even those most fiercely proclaimed, subject ultimately to the test of reason? Or, more disturbingly, are they not subject to the test of reasonings (plural) that may differ substantially from that reasoning in which they once were grounded? Things that seemed sacred and secure, a clear pathway to God, are called into question by those who have a different account of human flourishing. Entering into the dialogue of reason, once again, has a cost.

I think these citations, from three different parts of the article, demonstrate starting from an imprecise understanding of what reason is (failing to give an account of reason as a faculty or ability of the human mind ordered toward knowledge of the world in which we live). The ambiguity created by this starting point allows the recognition that the ability to reason can be exercised in different ways ("new reason and reasoning") to instead be expressed as if it were a completely different and novel thing altogether ("new reason and reasoning"). And it finally leads through to a relativisation of reason (as ability to know the truth of the world about us) to "reasonings" (different ways of exercising our ability to know). What is missing is a properly developed account of reason as an ability of the human mind, and of what constitutes a proper use of that ability and an improper use of it (the idea that some lines of argument or reasoning are correct and others are wrong).

It is perhaps part of the logic if this article that a relativisation of Scripture, and the miracles described in Scripture, to our contemporary reading of it is also apparent in the article (see paragraphs 8 and 9). This is not to deny that we read Scripture in the light of reason, or that we can see in Scripture messages or signs for our life today. But, to escape this becoming a form of relativism, it is important to have a sound understanding of the nature of reason that is absent from this article. A relativisation of tradtion and magisterium also follows in the next paragraph (paragraph 10).

The final paragraph, though quite poetic in nature, has a fundamental flaw. It carefully ignores the nature of "the texts" of Scripture and tradition as revelation, and how certainly we read them in the light of reason, but also in the light of faith. It praises reason, but leaves us to ask where and how it relates to faith. The"M" word (magisterium) is missing.

Throughout the Christian era and before it there has always been more than one way of being reasonable. That diversity is reflected in the texts, whether scriptural or dogmatic which attempt to articulate a narrative or a teaching, and point us towards the dynamic reality of our relationship with God. It is the challenging, but liberating work of Christian reasoning in every age to interpret the whole text so that its deep truth may be recognised and so can set us free.

Thinking Faith - "Happy-go-lucky"

The Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith has a review of the film "Happy-go-lucky". It was a film I was considering going to see, but I was deterred by warnings about strong language. It is a Mike Leigh film, made in a kind of workshop manner with the actors.

The Thinking Faith review ends with the following paragraphs:

Look. What can Poppy really do with her beauty and her kindness and her sunny disposition? She can make things a little gentler for the unfortunates she meets, but can she really ever be happy herself? What does happiness mean for Poppy?

If she doesn’t know what a human being is for (and she doesn’t even know what sex is for, if she can drift into it so casually) can she ever tell what successful living is? If she doesn’t recognise a Designer can she ever see a plan? If only she knew about a Saviour and a Cross she could perhaps show sense for people – not by putting trolley wheels under their crosses, or even taking their crosses away, but by showing them why they carry them.

No one could ever have cured her driving instructor, I suppose, or the tramp. But if she had known, she could have made some sense for herself and even for them, helping them recognise their need of a Saviour, the dignity of their pathetic scars, and the possibility of loving God in pain and failure. For a Christian, Mike Leigh’s acute vision illustrates this.

I thought this was quite a useful observation, and suspect that its essential idea could be applied to other films, too.

Thursday 24 April 2008

This building is rubbish - but that is a good thing!

I had reason to visit the Millennium Centre at Eastbrookend Country Park this afternoon. It is just down the road from where I live - but it's a bit like Blackpool where the residents are the people who have never been up the Tower! The building was opened in November 1997, and is made of either recycled or renewable materials. It sits within a kind of "green corridor" between Dagenham and Hornchurch/Elm Park, in East London. The area was originally farmland. During the building of the Becontree Estate in the 1920s and 1930s gravel pits were dug to provide raw materials for the concrete needed in construction. After World War II, rubble from the bombings of London was put into the gravel pits, and the area was used as a dumping ground until the 1980s. It was then cleared and converted into a country park.

Some information about the construction of the building can be found here. The idea of the building being screwed into the ground rather than having foundations is one that I find quite amusing. Part of the reason for this construction is that no-one was absolutely sure what had been dumped onto the site which made it difficult to design suitable foundations in the conventional sense. Some solar panels have been added to the roof - it was the potential for some A-level physics coursework around these that led to my visit. The roof is rubbish (recycled aluminium), the walls are rubbish (insulated with recycled newspaper), the floor is rubbish (recycled paving slabs, sand, gravel and recycled windscreens) etc. One of the more subtle aspects of the design is that the upward sweeping shape of the roof encourages natural air flows through the building.

And when the building reaches the end of its life ... it can be unscrewed from the ground, taken to pieces and recycled. "Remember, building, that thou are rubbish and unto rubbish thou shalt return."

Wednesday 23 April 2008

St George's Day

Today is the feast of St George, patron saint of England.

Leader now on earth no longer,
Soldier of th'eternal King,
Victor in the fight for heaven,
We thy loving praises sing.
Great Saint George, our patron, help us
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle,
Where each one must win or die.

As the celebration of someone whom the Church calls "saint", the first meaning of the day is that we celebrate the Christian mystery as it is expressed in the life of St George. According to my concise edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints, the story of St George and the dragon is a "later accretion", there being no certain traces of it before the 12th century. "There is every reason to believe that St George was a real martyr who suffered at Diospolis (ie Lydda) in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. Beyond this there seems to be nothing which can be affirmed with any confidence. The cult is certainly early." Fr Ray has a post about the legends of St George. How St George came to be the patron of England is also unclear. What is interesting is that our continued devotion to St George depends so heavily on a devotion that is passed down from the earliest days of the Church.

It is quite fitting that the celebration of St George should extend from its religious meaning to also gain a meaning as a celebration in public life - a party, if you like.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes associated with an unsavoury style of politics. The far-right British National Party have adopted the celebration of St George as part of their campaigning. They claim a "traditional Christian identity" - but this has to be challenged. Alan Craig, the Christian Choice candidate for the elections for Mayor of London on 1st May, has a post on this that makes interesting reading: Now for something shocking. "The shock was how far and how much the BNP clothe their narrow nationalist and racist dogma in ‘Christian’ garments." Alan Craig warns against being taken in by this deceit.

This appropriation of St George for political ends is not confined to the BNP. My own Member of Parliament, who might be described as being on the right of the Conservative Party, took out an advertisement in this week's local newspaper. It wished all readers a happy St George's day - no problem here - but also included references to fighting for Romford and putting Britain first. There is a certain tension between this promotion of a culture of self-interest and the sacrifice of a Christian martyr.

Happy feast day!

Monday 21 April 2008

Tongue in cheek

I am unable to resist sharing this, seen in a parish newsletter this weekend.

As the Church continues on pilgrimage, growing, dying and rising, it meets the challenges of mission in every level. Just as with the early church so too for us today. I will be visiting the United States on Sunday, following in the footsteps of the Holy Father, attending a Summit of the Church where priest and people will be in dialogue addressing such issues as the Catholic population, fewer priests and new models of ministry. Sounds familiar! I hope and pray that the task I have been given in representing the priests of our country across 'the pond' will bear fruit with ideas, concerns, joys and vision for an ever changing church.

Visit to West Yorkshire

This last weekend, we went on a visit to Haworth, West Yorkshire. This is the village very much associated with Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte.

A name check on the way to Haworth. It was very cold as I stood for this photo!

The parish Church at Haworth - re-built since the days of the Bronte sisters. We called here before visiting the Parsonage, where the Bronte family lived. The Parsonage is now owned by the Bronte Society, who open it as a museum. Many of the rooms contain original furniture or items associated with the family. The museum communicates a good idea of the characters of the family, without overloading visitors with too much information.

On the moors above Haworth, Saturday afternoon. A cold wind, but air a lot fresher than in Romford!

At the Bronte waterfalls - a favourite destination of the Bronte sisters on their walks. The stream is not the waterfall as such, which is not at all spectacular, and is to the left as you look at these photos. The bridge was re-built in the 1980's after a flash flood, though a similar bridge did exist at the time the Bronte sisters visited on their walks.

And some young lambs on the way back down to Haworth. Ahhh...

On the way back, our original plan had been to visit Woolsthorpe Manor, the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton. A change of plan occurred because, on our way up to Haworth, we had passed very near to the National Coal Mining Museum for England. So that is where we called on Sunday morning, on our way back home. This is a superb museum, and a visit includes an underground visit - with hard hat, lamp, check and then being taken down in a cage. As you tour the mine you follow the history of mining from the 1820's up to the modern day. There is also plenty to see above ground. My interest derived from the fact that my Dad had been a Bevin boy at the end of the second world war (ie, when he was called up at age 18 he had to go down the pit instead of joining the armed forces).

Welcoming Benedict XVI in USA

One of the interesting things about Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America is that of comparing the different speeches that have been given to welcome him. I have already posted on President George Bush's welcome speech at the White House. Below I compare that welcome to the welcome given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when Pope Benedict visited the UN.

The welcome speeches given by Archbishop Wuerl and Cardinal Egan at the beginning of the celebrations of Mass at the National's Stadium and the Yankee's Stadium are of rather a different nature. It appears to be the fashion to offer a welcome/introduction at the beginning of special celebrations like this - but I am not convinced that the style of welcome speeches offered on these two occasions really sits within the meaning of the rubric that allows a brief introduction to the Mass.

President George Bush: welcome to Benedict XVI at the White House

“Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope. And America and the world need this message. In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that ‘God is love.’”

The reference to Pope Benedict’s encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est is key to understanding President Bush’s words.

“The United States is the most innovative, creative and dynamic country on earth -- it is also among the most religious.”

Subtly, President Bush affirms the religious character of US society, clearly intending by that belief in revealed religions (perhaps primarily Christianity).

“Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer. Each day millions of our citizens approach our Maker on bended knee, seeking His grace and giving thanks for the
many blessings He bestows upon us. Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week.”

“Here in America you'll find a nation of compassion. Americans believe that the measure of a free society is how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. So each day citizens across America answer the universal call to feed the hungry and comfort the sick and care for the infirm. Each day across the world the United States is working to eradicate disease, alleviate poverty, promote peace and bring the light of hope to places still mired in the darkness of tyranny and despair.”

These two paragraphs reflect the two-fold structure of Deus Caritas Est - an analysis of the nature of human loving, and of God’s character as Love, followed by charity as the living out of God’s love in the world.

“Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation's independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the ‘laws of nature, and of nature's God.’ We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.”

The idea of a common moral law, rooted in God and manifested in nature and in the human heart; and thereby, the possibility that the laws of the land should defend such basic values as the good of human life.

“Holy Father, Laura and I are privileged to have you here at the White House. We welcome you with the ancient words commended by Saint Augustine: ‘Pax Tecum.’
‘Peace be with you.’”

An attitude of profound courtesy from someone who is not a Catholic, and a demonstration of what Benedict XVI would term “dialogue”.

UN Secretary-General: greeting to Benedict XVI at the United Nations

“Whether we worship one God, many or none -- we in the United Nations have to sustain and strengthen our faith every day. As demands on our Organization multiply, we need more and more of this precious commodity. I am profoundly grateful to his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for bestowing some of his faith on us -- and for placing his trust in us. He possesses both of these in abundance. May we be strengthened by his visit today.”

This concluding paragraph sums up Ban Ki-moon’s address: religious indifferentism, and the use of the word “faith” indiscriminately with regard to those who have and those who do not have religious belief, as if the word means the same for both groups,

“I am deeply grateful to His Holiness for accepting my invitation to visit the United Nations -- home to all men and women of faith around the world. Your
Holiness, welcome to our common home.

The United Nations is a secular institution, composed of 192 States. We have six official languages but no official religion. We do not have a chapel -- though we do have a meditation room.”

The absence of an official religion is the expression of an appropriate secular/lay character of the United Nations, but see above for the use of the word "faith".

“Before leaving the UN today, you will visit the Meditation Room. My great predecessor, Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, who created that room, put it well. He said of the stone that forms its centerpiece: ‘We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown God, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms.’”

The absence of chapels for the different religions in favour of a common “meditation room” goes beyond appropriate secularity to treating the different religions as themselves non-religious phenomena which must conform to non-religious criteria; and Dag Hammarskjold expresses again the religious indifferentism already noted.

“But if you ask those of us who work for the United Nations what motivates us, many of us reply in a language of faith. We see what we do not only as a job, but as a mission. Indeed, mission is the word we use most often for our work around the world -- from peace and security to development to human rights.”

Again, the word “faith” is used indiscriminately to refer to the faith of religious belief and to a secular meaning, though I feel the use of the word “mission” has here greater possibilities of genuine commonality of meaning.

“Your Holiness, in so many ways, our mission unites us with yours.

You have called for an open and sincere dialogue, both within your Church and between religions and cultures, in search of the good of humankind.”

I think there is a fairness in the use of the word “mission”, and a genuine commonality of meaning for the word. Ban Ki-moon listed in his speech some of the ways in which the UN and the Holy See share common purpose (in working to relieve poverty and achieve nuclear disarmament, for example).

But, it has to be said, the outlook of the United Nations, as represented by the General Secretary, goes counter to much of what Pope Benedict XVI stands for. Where President Bush shows a clear appreciation of Pope Benedict's mission, General Secretary Ban Ki-moon appears to be deliberately presenting a form of secularism as an alternative. The frustrating thing about this is the attempt to present it as if it is similar to the mission of Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church!

Thursday 17 April 2008

Apostolic visit to West Yorkshire

Veniteadoremus invited me for coffee - but like her, I generally drink tea. As far as helping to explain signal processing - age is affecting my skills in this area, the neurones do not connect as well as they used to, and when they do, the noise tends to drown out any useful signal ... An involved way of saying that it is a LONG time since my physics degree ...

Where am I going to be for the next couple of days? Haworth. Follow the link to the Brontes. I have read everything by Charlotte, but not succeeded in finishing anything by Anne or Emily.

St Anne's, Keighley, is where I am expecting to be at Mass this Sunday (probably Saturday evening, actually).

And on our way back we intend calling on Isaac Newton - well, his birthplace at least. I have to remember to buy some apples to provide the materials for a suitable photo opportunity!

So my next post is likely to be on Sunday or Monday.

A third aside on "A Challenging Reform"

Much of the discussion of the vernacular by the Consilium in the months immediately after the promulgation of Vatican II's constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, appears to have been in the context of bi-lingual Latin-vernacular texts of the Missal. These were already beginning to be published for congregational use before the Council, and I get a feeling from Archbishop Marini's book that there may have been a kind of unwritten and unspoken assumption that this would continue to be the pattern. There also seems to have been a similar unwritten and unspoken assumption that the vernacular translations would be accurate to the Latin original.

I wonder whether, with the preparation of vernacular translations of the Third Editio Typica of the Missal, the norm could be that bi-lingual editions of the altar Missal be published? This would seem to be closer to the intention of Sacrosanctum Concilium (nn.36, 54) with regard to the retention of Latin in the Liturgy along with appropriate use of the vernacular. It would also respond to that aspect of the agenda of Summorum Pontificum with regard to mutual influencing of the two forms of celebration by promoting the use of Latin in the ordinary form.

[Problems of bulk could be overcome by publishing the Missal in different volumes for the different seasons of the liturgical year, though that has its own potential difficulties.]

Wednesday 16 April 2008

President Bush greets Pope Benedict XVI

Earlier this evening, more on impulse than anything else, I followed a link on the BBC News website and watched a video clip of the speeches of President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI at the White House. I found President Bush's address particularly moving, and a splendid contrast to a recent effort in this country by Tony Blair. The full text can be found on the White House website [update 28th January 2009, ie post Obama: not any longer it can't.], along with the text of Pope Benedict's address. I confine my comments to the content of the address itself, and leave on one side observations that might be made about the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, capital punishment and perhaps other aspects of US foreign policy. My comments are made on extracts and do not present the full address.

"Holy Father, Laura and I are privileged to have you here at the White House. We welcome you with the ancient words commended by Saint Augustine: "Pax Tecum." Peace be with you."

Note the courtesy of address, from someone who is not a Catholic - "Holy Father". And the use of Latin is a nice touch.

"This is your first trip to the United States since you ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter. ... Here in America you'll find a nation of prayer. Each day millions of our citizens approach our Maker on bended knee, seeking His grace and giving thanks for the many blessings He bestows upon us. Millions of Americans have been praying for your visit, and millions look forward to praying with you this week."

Note the courtesy again - "the Chair of Saint Peter". And what a testimony of faith, as President Bush talks about prayer. It is not the language of vague "faith" but that of a firm and exact conviction of the efficacy of prayer.

"Here in America you'll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation's independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the 'laws of nature, and of nature's God.' We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built...

"The United States is the most innovative, creative and dynamic country on earth -- it is also among the most religious. In our nation, faith and reason coexist in harmony. This is one of our country's greatest strengths, and one of the reasons that our land remains a beacon of hope and opportunity for millions across the world. "

One might ask questions about the claim for greatness on the part of the United States - but the point about it being profoundly religious is important. Separation of religion and state (what Pope Benedict would recognise as a proper secularity of the state) does not mean the absence of religion from public life. The noting of a "common moral law" that is written "into every human heart" is also an important recognition of what Catholics would call "natural law". And President Bush has obviously noticed one of Pope Benedict's main themes, that of the relation of faith and reason.

"Most of all, Holy Father, you will find in America people whose hearts are open to your message of hope"

"Christ our Hope" is the theme chosen by the Catholic Church for the Pope's visit to the United States.

"In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that 'God is love.' And embracing this love is the surest way to save men from 'falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism.'"

This is a fascinating reference to Deus Caritas Est, to which there is also an implicit reference earlier in President Bush's address where he talks about the citizens of the United States working each day in acts of charity, and, as a country, engaging in charitable/aid activity throughout the world. This paragraph followed immediately after the one beginning "This is your first trip .." quoted above. The parallel to the two part structure of Deus Caritas Est - God is love, and therefore we are called to love of neighbour - is irresistable.

"In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that 'each of us is willed, each of us is loved' -- (applause) -- and your message that 'each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary.'

In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this 'dictatorship of relativism,' and embrace a culture of justice and truth. (Applause.) "

Wow! Not just for President Bush, but for the crowd who applauded - twice, and strongly! This moment in the speech really is worth watching on video. The camera moved back at this point to bring Pope Benedict into view, and you can see him react to the reference to relativism, smiling .. The phrase is, of course, taken from Pope Benedict himself. At the end of President Bush's speech, Pope Benedict rises briskly to shake the President's hand.

"Holy Father, thank you for making this journey to America. Our nation welcomes you. We appreciate the example you set for the world, and we ask that you always keep us in your prayers. (Applause.) "

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Two asides on "A Challenging Reform"

Since it arrived, I have been reading (rather slowly) Archbishop Piero Marini's "A Challenging Reform". Without stopping and consulting all the documents being referred to as you go along, it isn't easy to follow the story in all its implications.

On p.102 ff, Archbishop Marini describes some of the discussions taking place around concelebration. One of the questions considered was that of the number of concelebrants to be allowed, and their proximity to the altar. The discussion reads in a remarkably topical way, given current discussion about the "large celebrations" associated with Papal visits. If I have understood Archbishop Marini's account correctly, the Consilium/Congregation for Rites stepped back from defining a maximum number of 50 with an episcopal faculty to allow a greater number when appropriate. Instead, nothing was defined in this regard in the rite of concelebration published in March 1965. The question at issue during the discussion, of course, was exactly the same as the one at issue in the current discussion. How, in the context of a large concelebration, can it be arranged so that a concelebrating priest genuinely achieves an "actual participation" in the Eucharistic Prayer? Does this require a specific sight of the species being consecrated? Does it require a certain proximity to the altar? It appears difficult to define one particular rule that will cover all possible situations, but the criterion of enabling each concelebrant's "actual participation" might provide a general criterion that could be applied to each individual situation.

On pp.144-145, Archbishop Marini comments (in passing) on the negative response of the Holy See to a request to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word separately with children and then have them join the rest of the congregation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. A similar negative response was given to a request for permission to allow trained lay people to distribute Holy Communion. Both these requests were made by a spanish bishop, Cardinal Tabera, in the years before 1971, when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Both practices are now part of ordinary pastoral experience in many parishes.

I do wonder, though, about the efficacy of "children's liturgy" on a Sunday morning. With my teacher's hat on, I ask questions like: what is the objective being sought? [Is it just a kind of child minding to reduce disturbance in the Church during the readings? Is it to allow the children to have access to the readings in a simplified form, to improve their understanding/participation?] Has anyone looked at where the children are "coming from"? [What styles of particpation are appropriate for different ages? If watching activity on the sanctuary is appropriate, why take very young children out for the Gospel procession? At a simple level, children can still participate through posture - sitting, and then standing for the Gospel. In principle at least, though I recognise the difficulty of language, the "story telling" aspect of the Liturgy of the Word should be familiar experience to children, so surely it should be the part of the Liturgy in which they can most readily participate, given appropriate strategies?]Has anyone clearly defined where they want to move the children to as a result of their taking part in children's liturgy? [If we want to move them to a fuller participation in the Liturgy as they grow older, surely it is counter productive to take them out of Church for the confiteor, the Gloria, the readings, parts of the liturgy where there is ample opportunity for them to see participation being modelled for them?] I get the impression that "children's liturgy" is a kind of received wisdom that is handed on without anyone really asking the question: what is it for? and is it achieving what we think it is for?

I am beginning to think along two lines on this issue. One is that the fundamental aim is to grow children's participation in the Liturgy. As I watch older children, teenagers and families at Mass, one of the things that strikes me in some cases is that there is a lack of real participation. This is probably partly because of lack of doctrinal knowledge about what is happening at Mass; but I think it is also because parishes do not teach participation (in the real sense, not in the "doing something" like being a reader or singer sense!). A First Communion programme, for example, could focus almost entirely around issues of participation: the meaning and practice of different postures, genuflection, things to watch during Mass and the like, giving parents strategies to use with their children to encourage their participation (simple things, like, no toys or crayons and bring them up to the front where they can see). The pattern of a Saturday morning teaching session followed by a "celebration" Mass on the Sunday morning [again, I start to ask questions like what is the aim of that Sunday morning Mass? What does it intend to achieve for the children involved? See second line of thougth below] as widely practiced does not appear to deliver on participation.

My second line of thought is to think that there is also a role for catechists to work with families and children during Mass, to encourage participation - helping children to say the responses or adopt the correct posture, or to read along with the prayers, or to be attentive to what they can see happening in the sanctuary. I think most parents, particularly in situations where only one parent comes to Mass with the children, would welcome this help.

The long term outcome of this would be (hopefully) teenagers who are so used to coming to Mass and participating properly that it doesn't occur to them as teenagers to do anything else but go to Mass. And teenagers who participate properly at Mass are not going to lapse ... so often those who come without participating will lapse.

Monday 14 April 2008

Vocations continued

Following on from yesterday's post in connection with Vocations Sunday, I offer below the notes for my Legion of Mary allocutio this evening. I suspect that many other organisations or movements in the Church will find a similar vocation-mission dialogue within their charisms. This is a Marian-ecclesial character of all vocation in the Church.

Spiritual Reading: from the Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.307-308

A solemnity attaches to last words even though they are uttered in turmoil or weakness. What then is to be thought of our Lord's final injunction to the apostles: what has been called his last will and testament, delivered at a moment more awesome than that of Sinai - that is as the completion of all his earthly lawgiving and immediately before his Ascension? As he speaks, he is already clothed with the very majesty of the Trinity: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." (Mk 16:15)
Those words supply the Christian keynote. Faith must strain after people with inextinguishable ardour. Sometimes that essential note is missing. People are not sought after, neither those in the fold nor those outside it. But if that Ascension commandment be disregarded, it will be at a price - the price of loss of grace, of diminution and decay, even to the extinction of faith. Look around and see how many places have already paid that awful price…..

The Legion must be, so to speak, obsessed by that final commandment. It must, as a first principle, set out to establish a contact of some sort with every soul everywhere. If this be done - and it can be done - then the Lord's command will be moving towards fulfilment.
Our Lord, it will be noted, does not order that every person be converted, but only that approach be made to every one. The former may be beyond human possibility. But it is not impossible to make the approach.

1. Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Sunday 13th April 2008 (World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life)

Vocation and mission are inseparable:

This missionary service is carried out, in the first place, by priests …
… by those who decide to radically live the Gospel through the vows of chastity,
poverty and obedience
Christian marriage is also a missionary vocation

“Let us invoke the maternal protection of Mary for the many vocations that exist in the Church so that they are developed with an intense missionary character. To her, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, I also commend the special missionary experience that I will live in the next few days with the apostolic trip to the United States and the visit to the United Nations, as I ask all of you to accompany me with your prayers.”

2. The Second Vatican Council on the Blessed Virgin and vocations in the Church

“In her life the Virgin has been a model of that motherly love with which all who join in the Church’s apostolic mission for the regeneration of mankind should be animated.”[1]

“(Priests) always find a wonderful example of such docility in the Blessed Virgin Mary who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit made a total dedication of herself for the mystery of the redemption of men. Priests should always venerate and love her, with a filial devotion and worship, as the Mother of the supreme and eternal Priest, as Queen of Apostles, and as protectress of their ministry.”[2] [my emphasis - to show response to vocation as being at the service of mission]

“(Members of religious institutes) have dedicated their whole lives to his service. This constitutes a special consecration, which is deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration and is a fuller expression of it.”[3]

“Spouses, therefore, are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for their duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament…”[4]

3. The Marian character of vocation and mission in the Legion of Mary

The vocation of the Legionary is expressed in a consecration to the Virgin Mary; this consecration is renewed each year in the Acies ceremony. This Marian consecration is a specification of the consecration received in baptism, and so we can understand it in the same context as the consecrations of the priesthood, religious life and marriage. In this way our Legion membership is a response to a vocation.

The Legion is profoundly missionary. This is expressed in the obligation for members of a praesidium to undertake a substantial apostolic work each week, and by such Legion activities as the Peregrinatio Pro Christo.

The devotional outlook of the Legion sees its devotion to Mary as the root of its missionary work.[5] As Pope Benedict XVI suggested, Legion membership seen as a vocation and Legion membership seen as a mission are inseparable.

[1] Vatican II Lumen Gentium n.65.
[2] Vatican II Presbyterorum Ordinis n.18. This paragraph has a footnote referring to Vatican II Lumen Gentium n.65.
[3] Vatican II Perfectae Caritatis n.5
[4] Vatican II Gaudium et Spes n.48.
[5] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.22-23.

Sunday 13 April 2008

BBC News website coverage of Vocations Sunday

I have just watched a video clip on the BBC's news website. It is an interview with Fr Paul Embury and Fr Joe Silver, broadcast in connection with the vocations campaign being run here in the UK for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. It is well worth a look. Follow the links from, or try searching for "BBC News Player - Recruitment drive for priests". I think Fr Paul and Fr Joe do quite a good job, and certainly communicated a good impression.

One might have asked for a better argued response to the suggestion by one of the interviewers of women priests and married priests than "we have to do what the Pope says, almost", and a more complete description of the personal qualities expected of prospective priests. But in other respects Fr Paul and Fr Joe projected a confidence in their own priesthood. They were willing to talk about the "counter cultural" nature of permanent commitment and celibacy in today's world.

Not having a TV, I do not know the names of the male and female interviewers, and can't find these on the clip. However, both interviewers were very courteous. The male interviewer particularly impressed me by asking questions that showed a genuine understanding of the nature of vocation within Catholicism.

Joined up Catholicism in schools

The thoughts behind this post come from three different places. A recent comment here contained the observation that Tony Blair didn't really do "joined up government" when he was in office so it's not surprising that he doesn't do "joined up Catholicism" either. Another comment has described sex education being given in a school without it being placed in the proper context of Catholic teaching on marriage. I have just marked some assignments for Maryvale Institute's PGCE course. One assignment gave some very practical suggestions as to how religious education might connect with other subject areas in a Catholic school - the general idea of vocation as obedience to a call from God to a particular way of life, and the more specific idea of vocations to the priesthood or religious life, for example, could be taught within the school's careers delivery.

So here are some more suggestions for "joined up Catholicism" in schools (if you think of any more, please add them in the comments box):

1. Teaching the doctrine of creation (not to be understood in a fundamentalist sense as opposed to evolution) alongside teaching about evolution in science lessons.
2. Teaching Catholic doctrine on marriage in science classes, alongside teaching the biological aspects of human reproduction and contraception.
3. Teaching some medical ethics in science classes before studying topics related to IVF and stem cell research.
4. Using religous poetry in English classes.
5. Teaching Catholic social doctrine as part of citizenship.

I wonder how many schools do teach the appropriate Catholic doctrine in their RE lessons, but with a practical divorcing of that teaching from the teaching in other subject areas? In all of the areas suggested above, it should be possible to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum or examination specifications as well as teaching from a specifically Catholic point of view.

"Joined up Catholicism", though, requires the teachers of subjects other than RE in the school to have a good knowledge of and some sympathy towards Catholic teaching, something that can be problematical if the staff involved have no religious belief of their own.

Two photographs

The first photo is of the flowers I have in my living room at the moment. The first lily has opened out superbly.

The second is of the statue of Our Lady of La Salette. This is from a lcoal parish Church dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette, that I had reason to visit this afternoon.

Saturday 12 April 2008

Religious-secularist dialogue: the Cardinal's lectures continued

Mulier Fortis and Fr Tim have posts on the second of the Cardinal's Lectures, given by Mark Thompson, a Catholic, who is director general of the BBC. Their posts suggest that the Catholic blogosphere continues to be less than fully impressed (now, isn't that a wonderful circumlocution!) by a lecture series whose title wishes to address issues of the relationship between religion and secular society. A transcript/text of the lecture can be found here, at the website of the Westminster Archdiocese. The comments within the "debate" at that site reflect some of the concerns expressed in Mulier Fortis and Fr Tim's posts.

With hindsight about the first lecture, and perhaps some crystal ball gazing looking forward to future lectures in the series, a question has occurred to me. Which is the most important question facing religions and society in general in Britain - the question of inter-religious dialogue or the question of dialogue between religions and secularist society (expressed most significantly in its political manifestations of party politics and legislation)? Tony Blair's lecture seemed to see the first of these as most important and as being the area in which his foundation intends to work. I want to suggest in this post that it is in fact the second of these dialogues that is more important, and looking at the titles of future lectures in the series, there is the potential that it may be addressed. However, I must admit that I feel it is more likely that these lectures will in fact cover more the territory of the first question.

In the context of ecumenical dialogue, I have observed (here)that I feel that the core reality of this dialogue lies less in explicitly "ecumenical" events and more in the way that Christian churches live out an ecumencial identity as part of their "ordinary life". I cited the Focolare movement (with its "spirituality of unity" lived out in "four dialogues") and the Bridgettine sisters (with a monastic charism of hospitality and prayer for unity among Christians) as examples of how the Catholic Church does this. In this context, the willingness of the Church of England to ordain women, accept homosexual clergy, etc has a profound and adverse ecumenical meaning, despite the willingness of the Church of England to engage in ecumencial activity. Of far greater ecumencial significance, I would suggest, is the stand being taken by some African bishops of the Anglican communion.

Now, let me try to apply the same sort of idea to dialogue between religions and secularist society. How can the Catholic Church, and other religions, live in some way a dialogue with secularist society? I would suggest two areas. One is a willingess to engage with human reason. This means that religious believers need to engage with academic studies across the piece - physical sciences, philosophy, and the human sciences, and to be willing to approach their study in these areas as specialists in those areas using the methodologies appropriate to those areas. The second area is a specification of the first. It is a willingness to engage with the study of the physical sciences in the light of religious belief, a dialogue between religion and science.

And, from the other side, how can secularist society live a dialogue with religion? I would suggest the same two areas. One of the key components in current secularist activity might be called the "LGBT concept", which presents gender/sexual identity as being a product of social construct and therefore open to any adjustment to suit human wishes. This is, in my view, a profoundly irrational concept. It denies that the sexual differentiation of the human body has any real meaning, and, indeed turns away from the move away from asexual towards sexual reproduction that can be seen in the move from the lower living forms to the higher. So, secularist society needs to re-engage with reason in the proper sense of that word. Secondly, secularist society needs to engage in the dialogue between science and religion. Some of the recent posts and comments on this blog show a movement of hostility towards religion among scientists. This needs to be replaced by dialogue between scientists and religions.

This dialogue between religion and secularist society seems to me to be just as, if not more more, critical for developing social cohesion than dialogue between religions (though in saying that I do not wish to say that inter-religious dialogue has no part to play, more that it needs to be paralleled by religious-secularist dialogue). Politics appears to be a bit like the Church of England at the moment - promoting an agenda of "social cohesion" whilst at the same time promoting other agendas that militate against dialogue between secularist society and religion. This they do through their hostility towards religiously inspired institutions such as schools and the LGBT agenda.

Friday 11 April 2008

London outing

I have spent most of today in London, meeting up with my sister and her family. Some photos herewith, at St Pancras Station.

The "kiss" at St Pancras Station. The best views are reserved for those arriving on the Eurostar platforms.

Some of the "crew" with Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras Station.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station. You have to be into Harry Potter to appreciate this. The story is that putting the luggage trolley "into" the wall was a lunch time bright idea of some of the work men during the work on the new St Pancras Station ..

Thursday 10 April 2008

Richard Feynman: an interim update

I have indicated a delay in my series of posts on Richard Feynman, as I try to do some homework. I think it might be useful, though, to give an indication of what I feel my starting point is for part 4.

I think my starting point has to be the perspective outlined in my post Richard Feynman: part 2. This is largely based on his book The Character of Physical Law. I may stand to be corrected by anyone who has read Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-soEeasy Pieces in more detail than I have, but my reading of them so far suggests that, in so far as the points made in part 2 are concerned, they are in line with The Character of Physical Law.

I also outlined some questions in part 3 1/2. Part 4 will need to try to pick those questions up.

But, in addition to the three books referred to above (where Feynman is speaking directly about physics itself), Richard Feynman also spoke/wrote more directly on questions relating to the meaning of scientific enquiry, including the question of religion in relation to science and the relation of science to other academic disciplines. Some lectures are published in The Meaning of it All; other material appears in The Pleasure of Finding things Out; and there might also be odd bits in the autobiographical Surely, you're joking Mr Feynman. And there are the points from the Lectures on Physics pointed out by Mike Gottlieb in a comment.

Some questions arise from my grouping of Feynman's works in this way.

Qn 1: Is there any difference that can be seen between Feynman's views as expressed in the two groups of works? Does he say things in the second grouping that he does not say in the first?

And, following from this:

Qn 2: Can the advocacy of doubt in science that is a major feature of the second group of works be found in the first group? Or is it unrelated to them?

And related to this:

Qn 3: Where does Richard Feynman's atheism fit in? Does it come "before" his study of nature or does it come "after", as a consequence of, his study of nature?

I do expect to post part 4 sometime during the present year ....

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Word of Life April 2008

Tonight a small group of us met for a meeting of our "Word of Life" group. This was our first meeting since the death of Chiara Lubich, so we began with a prayer for her:

"Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace and rise again in glory"

The text for this month's Word of Life was from Isaiah 32:17: Integrity will bring peace, justice give lasting security. This is part of Chiara Lubich's meditation on the text:

By recognizing other people as members of our own family, who are waiting for us to notice them, give them respect, and come close to them in solidarity.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Physics World April 2008: Prof Michael Heller

The current issue of Physics World carries a news item reporting the award of the Templeton prize to Fr Michael Heller. The Templeton prize is awarded for "progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities", and has not infrequently been awarded to a scientist. The Physics World report suggests that Fr Heller is a "former priest"; this appears to be inaccurate (see below) and I think Fr Heller is still "Father", if you see what I mean. The same news report can be found here on the Physics World website, where it has attracted to date some 43 comments. This is far more comments than any other recent news items on the site. A number of the comments are quite aggresively anti-religious in tone, suggesting that the Templeton prize is without any credibility or that to hold a religious belief is to suspend rationality. Some of them do appear rather old fashioned and ill-thought out comments, but I suspect that may be part of the internet phenomenon - the thought put into a comment may well decline in proportion to the increase in ease of publishing the comment. Here, in any case, is one of the responses, from Lublin, Poland. Lublin is the home of the Catholic University of Lublin, the philosophical home ground of Pope John Paul II.

"The aggressive and downgrading tone of the comments by Existenciel, aroman, phizii is an illustration of a lamentable state of physics-centered closed-mindedness of their authors, but not the whole community of physicists. There are physicists who know that knowledge gained by physics as a whole - although crucially important - is not the only one that is possible and valuable. There are other disciplines of science, of philosophy, and theology, that answer to the questions that are not possible to deal with in terms of physics. Therefore, all attempts at limiting this narrow-mindedness stemming from either “imperialistically” oriented science, theology or philosophy, should be encouraged. Templeton Prize serves this end nicely and effectively, even though some may be dismayed by the fact, that some its laureates are not only physicists, but also religious, and – what is more - Catholic. BTW, prof. Michael Heller continues to be a Catholic priest."

And in a post from Moscow:

"It's regrettable but understandable that most opinions of western physicists in comments are so positivistic and atheistic. Rationalism is dominant and there no place for God in their world but it is only their world. To be physicist not equals to be atheist or agnostic."

It is very interesting that Fr Heller intends to use his prize to establish a centre to investigate questions in physics, theology and philosophy, affiliated to the Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow. The centre is reported at the moment as being dubbed the "Copernicus Centre", probably a tribute to the fact that Copernicus studied for a time in Cracow. It would, though, be a fascinating choice of name for what it might say about the relationship between science and Christian faith.

Monday 7 April 2008

Tony Blair supports Stonewall on the same day as he lectures on faith

St***wall (I try not to namecheck them!) is the most prominent LGBT activist organisation in the UK. What follows is taken from St***wall's website, from a news release dated 4th April 2008 It refers to St***wall's Equality dinner held on 3rd April 2008. h/t to Mulier Fortis. The emphasis is mine.

"Sir Ian McKellen gives keynote speech at fundraising gala 'Tea with Tony' fetches £20,000
Sir Ian McKellen, a co-founder of Stonewall, gave a rousing keynote speech about the charity's 'tireless work for equality', paying tribute to Stonewall's 'fantastic team'. He recalled: 'We were part of a historic initiative, that little group in which gay men and women took things into their own hands.' He shared with the 540 guests that he had visited Tony Blair on behalf of Stonewall three months before his election as Prime Minister. 'I reeled off Stonewall's demands, and he nodded, wrote them down and put a tick by them all. Then he said we will do all that.' ...

"Auctioned at the Dinner were a range of items .... The opportunity to have tea with Tony Blair secured a bid of £20,000. All funds raised will go towards Stonewall campaigns such as Education for All, tackling homophobic bullying from Britain's schools."

Well, now we have a public admission of the extent of the influence of gay activists on the Blair government.

On 3rd April 2008, Tony Blair is lending his name to funding raising for a gay activist organisation. [And, just to make clear, St***wall are actively promoting a policy of 'removing heterosexist assumptions' from the work of schools under the name of "equality" - ie demanding that schools, and society in general, treat LGBT lifestyles as absolutely equivalent to heterosexist lifestyles. This is not just about fairness of treatment for LGBT people, it is about working for an ideological change in our culture, an ideological change that is not compatible with Catholic teaching. A possible justification that supporting St***wall is about supporting fairness, without condoning the LGBT concept itself, just does not hold water.]

On 3rd April 2008, Tony Blair is lecturing on "Faith and Globalisation" at Westminster Cathedral, and observing that

"If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn't affect your politics".

I have real difficulty with this. How can someone, on the same day that they are saying that they are a man of faith (and in this case the faith involved is the Roman Catholic faith) be lending their support to an organisation that profoundly opposes the teaching of that faith? I really can't get it.

Every Child Matters - a parent's comment

The following has come via a comment on the post "School bans girl's crisps". I publish it here as a discrete post. The comment is of interest as one thing I did not say in the post it responded to was... that the school involved was a Catholic primary school. I have also just amused myself by looking up its OFSTED report, published in January of this year. The school achieved an overall effectiveness grade 2 (good).

From the text of the report:

"Pupils have an excellent understanding of how to live healthy and safe lives. One said, 'I run up and down the stairs - it warms me up and gives me exercise!'"

And then from the list of judgements at the end of the report:

"The extent to which learners adopt healthy lifestyles grade 1 (outstanding)
The extent to which learners adopt safe practices grade 1 (outstanding)"

Well, there are circumstances where it may be quite safe to run up and down stairs (I can think of an experiment sometimes done in science lessons to work out the power of a person); but, as a general rule, for primary age pupils in their general movement around a building, it would be discouraged in favour of walking! Oh, wonderful, wonderful, OFSTED.

Though I know of the "All that I am" programme to which this comment refers, I am not familiar with the content of the programme and its materials. I would be happy to receive comments with other people's experiences of the programme. I am not sure that I would agree with characterising the ECM agenda as "evil" per se, but I can see that it is giving rise to serious difficulties. I suspect, as this comment seems to indicate, that Catholic schools need to be a bit more critical/assertive in the way in which they respond to the demands of ECM.

I did leave a comment earlier about my experiences of ECM, as a parent. It must have somehow got lost on the worldwide web. I shall try again.1.Collecting my children from school earlier this year, a question on the way home in the car from my son: "mum, what`s child pornography". The two 7 year olds in the back asked as well, as I tried not to steer the car off the road into a tree. They had a visit from the local policeman who, as it turns out, went into some detail about what child pornography is and why it gets on the internet and to please ring them on this number if they suspect they have seen any. It led to many questions from my children about why people would want to view this stuff or produce it in the first place. I was shaking by the time I got home. This part of the timetable came under something called "personal health and safety" and my enquiries showed that it is part of the Every Child Matters Agenda. We know every child matters. Show me anyone who actively believes "Only Some Children Matter". Those who don`t think any children matter will eventually be dealt with by the courts, as with Victoria Climbie's killer( which gave rise to this ECM stuff).It is complete nonsense and being used to enforce a secular/anything goes agenda in our Catholic schools. THEY are the ones affected by it, not the community schools. It is ONLY in a Catholic school that children will be taught that certain things are moral absolutes and wrong: abortion, pre-marital sex, divorce, to name the 3 obvious ones. What ECM is succeeding in doing (because teachers do not want to ignore a government directive - their jobs depend upon it)is under-mining parents' right to educate their Catholic children in matters of the faith. And these are literally matters of life and death. My childrens' dignity was assaulted by this health and safety lesson. They and I were violated. But parents have no recourse. Everyone in authority supports this ECM nonsense. NO-one wants to rock the boat for fear of being unable to pay their mortgage in 6 months' time..

2.My son in year 5 last year was put through a programme called " All that I Am". This is a sex education programme that has been approved by the Department of Health and funded by them, in co-operation with the Church for use in our schools. The last time I checked, the DOH didn`t share my values about sex education for chlidren. However, that aside, and trusting that it would be fine - this is a Catholic shcool, after all - I ticked the box agreeing to it. My son, at the end of the week relayed to me all that he had learned. I had also taken the trouble to read the programme myself. It is big on dignity, self-worth, God's love. Doesn`t mention chastity once. The teacher (non-catholic) taking them through the programme expanded onto teenage sex, and how many teenagers are getting STDs because they are becoming sexually active "too early". Sexuality was not taught within the context of the Sacrament of marriage. It was taught as an animal bodily function with a bit of spirituality thrown in. This was a real mistake on my part to have allowed my son to go through this. I should never have put his soul in this position, and it has caused enormous distress. I do not know how I could have been so utterly stupid. With hindsight, I should have removed him from school, for the week, and taken him through the teaching myself. I have since, with the help of Grace, ironed out the misunderstandings and filled in the teachings of the Church for him. I will not make the same mistake again.These are just 2 small examples, Joseph, of how ECM is being used to enforce, by stealth, (you can be sure most people aren`t even noticing)this government's anti-Christian agenda. They are not anti-faith, as such. We parents just have to put up with it, or take our own evasive/curative action. NO-one is listening to us -our priests (with notable vocal exceptions - Fr Tim Finegan understands this perfectly), our teachers or our governors. NO-one wants to speak out.And, the government has also brought a supplementary document to ECM called " Every Muslim Child Matters". When I rang the Schools Department to ask for a copy of "Every Catholic Child Matters", they told me that that was not one of their publications. We are not imagining this, Joseph. ECM is evil. MY children matter to me, and I will not have their dignity and my authority udnermined by ECM. I do believe I am not alone, but as you can appreciate, with so very little support, you have be robust to speak out.

I am glad you have raised ECM. Because it certainly matters to me, and many parents. I believe, from terrible experience, it is much more serious than low fat crisps.

Sunday 6 April 2008

A puzzle for Eastertide

Having received a prompt, I have spent the last week trying to come up with meme suitable for the Easter season. This was meant to follow up from la mamma's Lenten meme. I haven't really succeeded, so it has transformed into a puzzle. You can post the answer (sorry, an answer, any answer, if there is one) on your own blog, but do put an alert into my comment box so I can link to it.

The Gospel for the Friday of the Easter Octave is from St John, and includes a description of Simon Peter bringing ashore is fishing net "full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them" (Jn 21:11). Various interpretations of the number 153 are given by the Fathers of the Church - St Augustine, for example, starts with the number 10 as representing the Decalogue, the "law"; the "law" without the "spirit" is dead, so he then adds "7" as the number representing, in his gifts, the Holy Spirit; we thereby reach the number 17; St Augustine's calculation then continues as 1+2+3+4+...+16+17=153. [Source Augustine on John 122, consulted on Biblia Clerus]. The figure of 153 is meant to represent the sum total of all those who will be saved, the sum total of the holiness that is in the Church. Another approach to this can be found on pp.82-85 of Hans Urs von Balthasar's First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr.

The puzzle then: is there a hymn or poem for Easter with exactly 153 words? or, (perhaps?), exactly 153 lines? Or 153 verses (well, probably not this last one!). I suspect that near misses will have to be counted as well. You might even feel inspired to write your own ...

PS. Do sing at Mass this morning, as well as counting the words!

The "winter" olympics

This was the view from my bedroom window when I woke up this morning. The photograph has been strategically taken to miss out the gas storage that provides my normal sky line!

The Olympic torch is due to be carried through London today (I wonder whether anyone has done a risk assessment for running in snow holding a burning flame?). Anti-China protests are forecast, with recent events in Tibet as the main focus. There are, of course, many other human rights issues with regard to China - an enforced one-child policy, for example, and anti-Christian persecution.

As far as the 2012 Olympics in London is concerned, I am not an enthusiast. The headline is one of increasing costs, but this has a translation on the ground for ordinary Londoners. I can see the Olympic project being a bit like a black hole, absorbing all the resources, human and material, that are in any way within reach of its boundaries. Those are then resources that are not available for many other projects in the area. Local Authorities like my own have projects for the upgrading of their social housing ("Decent Homes", for those in the know) and most are also involved in developing major building projects for their schools due to be implemented in the years approaching 2012 ("Building Schools for the Future"). I am not able to see how these cannot be adversely affected by a mega-building project at their front door.

Saturday 5 April 2008

"School bans girl's crisps"

"Allergy girl told off for eating low-fat snack.

A mum believes her daughter is being discriminated against at her school - because of her dietary needs. AG says her daughter N, 11, who has wheat allergy and attends X school, was told she could not have her low-fat crisps as a lunchtime snack because they were not allowed under the school's healthy-eating policy....

N suffered seven painful years with Irritable Bowel Syndrome before she was diagnosed with the allergy. Since her diet change, her IBS has calmed.

Her packed lunch now consists of wheat-free pitta bread with ham or chicken, a rice crisp bar, a packet of low-fat crisps and fruit...AG said her daughter used to be overweight but she worked with Havering PCT's junior weight programme and lost 2 st in nine weeks last year."

This is from my local paper this week. One might see the point to a school encouraging healthy eating in the food it provides for its school meals, but it gets a bit alarming to see that being extended to monitoring the packed lunches of pupils. The paper's report ends with the paragraph:

"A Havering Council spokesman said: 'The school has offered to arrange a meeting with AG and invite a dietician to help them discuss the matter and find healthy eating alternatives'."

So it is not just a case of a member of staff at the school saying something when they are unfamiliar with the medical background - it looks like a policy being enforced. One would have thought the school could recognise the special need relating to this pupil, particularly given the medical history and previous collaboration with health initiatives.

But, of course, OFSTED now report on how well pupils in a school adopt healthy lifestyles (the "be healthy" strand of the Every Child Matters framework, which includes a measure relating to how many young people are eating their "5 portions a day"), and what they eat at school is an easily measurable aspect of this. I wonder if this is influencing this school's approach here?

Friday 4 April 2008

Tony Blair "Faith and Globalisation": some comments on a transcript

A transcript of Tony Blair's lecture, the first of this year's Cardinal's Lectures on Faith and Life in Britain, can be found on the website of the Archdiocese of Westminster. I believe there are several points of interest in the transcript. I am going to avoid commenting adversely on Tony Blair's previous record as a Member of Parliament and as Prime Minister (bar one quick comment) - LifeSiteNews is probably carrying the best comment of this type. I am not going to comment, either, on the aims outlined for his Foundation on inter-faith relations - perhaps someone else will comment on that for me. I am sure too that other comments could be made than mine. Fr Tim has some comments that are worth adding to mine, as has Rita.

1. Tony Blair rejects religious indifferentism, and does so explicitly.

"Even if by far most religious people are not prone to the use of terror, at least not nowadays, there are extremists in virtually every religion. And even where there is not extremism expressed in violence there is extremism expressed in the idea that a person’s identity is to be found not merely in their religious faith, but in their faith as a means of excluding the other person who does not share it. Let me be clear. I am not saying that it is extreme to believe your religious faith is the only true faith. Most people of faith do that. It doesn’t stop them respecting those of a different faith or indeed of no faith." [my emphasis]

And commenting on his Foundation, Blair insists that "It is not about losing our own distinctive faith". Where Tony Blair here uses the term "extreme" would others use, pejoratively, the term "fundamentalist"?

Now, it does not take a lot of imagination to see where this principle could be applied in contemporary British society. It is not extreme for the Catholic Church to hold to its official teaching on homosexuality, or to expect the education offered in its schools to be in accord with Catholic moral teaching, most especially with regard to sexual and marital ethics. And this should not be read as lack of respect for those who have different views on these matters.

Though it might have been nice if Tony Blair had been willing to draw the conclusion himself ... But see point 7 below, which might indicate that Tony Blair would not want to apply his principle at the level of specific beliefs.

2. Tony Blair recognises that charitable activity undertaken by religious believers is rooted in their religious faith.

Tony Blair gives a wide ranging list of religious initiatives for justice and the relief of poverty, and then observes:

"For all these actors faith is not something incidental to their actions. It is the wellspring of them, the font, the origin, the thing that makes these people who they are and do what they do ... They believe that they act as instruments of God's love when they perform such actions." [Again, my emphasis.]

This is a theme more fully developed in Part II of Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Christian charitable activity is not just a work of welfare that could be left to others but a living practice of God's love for others arising from the very nature of the Church; it is an essentially religious activity and not a secular one. If my memory serves me correctly, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes of the Pontifical Institute Cor Unum has been making the point that Catholics engaged in charitable activity cannot leave their religious faith out of their commitment to charity.

Again, one can see points where this principle has consequences in contemporary Britain. Catholic charities should have the freedom to carry out their activities in ways that are in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Catholic health care facilities (and, indeed, Catholic individuals working in health care facilities) should not be forced to provide contraceptive and abortion services that conflict with Catholic teaching. Catholic adoption agencies should not be presented with the choice either to place children with gay or lesbian couples or to close down. The charitable activity of these institutions cannot be separated from their religious belief in such a way.

Again, it might have been nice for Tony Blair to draw the conclusion himself ... But, again, see point 7 below, which might indicate that Tony Blair would not want to apply his principle at the level of specific beliefs.

3. Tony Blair very usefully presents religion as a force for good in history.

Whilst recognising that there have been times, places and people where religious faith has not been for the good, Tony Blair does give a long list of examples of organisations and activities where religious believers have made a contribution for the good. One might find his inclusion of "the radical and brave liberation priests of South America" in the list a bit undiscriminating, but the reference to "those that in their thousands and hundreds of thousands work in the poorest, most disease-ridden, conflict ravaged parts of Africa this day and every day" seems to show an understanding of the sheer scale of religious engagement in charitable activity.

And, in reaction against militant secularism, he writes:

"But let us also recall for a moment the evils of the 20th century done in the furtherance of political ideology; fascism and the holocaust; communism and the millions of Stalin's victims. And recall how the heroic defiance of those evils was often led by men and women of faith".

4. Tony Blair touches on the question of the relationship of faith and reason.

"I see Faith and Reason, Faith and Progress, as in alliance not contention" [Upper case as used in the transcript.]

"Yet for most people of faith, religious belief is quintessentially about truth. So, science and faith, reason and faith should never be seen as opposites but as bedfellows."

"Faith is a living and growing belief, not stuck in one time in history, but moving with time, with reason, with knowledge, informed by scientific and technological discovery not in antithesis to it, as well as directing those discoveries toward humane ends. Faith is not something separate from our reason, still less from society around us, but integral to it, giving the use of reason purpose and society a soul, and human beings a sense of the divine"

Ifeel there are two weaknesses. The apparent equation of "reason" with "progress", and "reason" with "science" makes one wonder what Tony Blair is trying to denote by the word "reason", and this is only partly lifted when he goes on to see faith as giving purpose to the use of reason. Reason is used in fields of study other than science. And, because there is no distinction made in his comment between different religions, the fact that religions are not uniform in their ability to form a synthesis of modern science with their religious belief is skated over.

It is interesting, nevertheless, that Tony Blair felt it useful to include these references to the relationship of faith and reason. Understanding that relationship is key to establishing dialogue between religious belief and secular culture. The relationship has, again, been much more fully developed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, and is a repeated theme of Pope Benedict XVI. A discussion of the relation of faith and reason was, for example, what the address at the University of Regensburg was about in September 2006.

5. Tony Blair argues for a positive role of religion in the present times.

"I ... argue that religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress. But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today; and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition."

"Faiths can transform and humanise the impersonal forces of globalisation, and shape the values of the changing set of economic and power relationships of the early 21st century"

Again, I think this is an issue that has been addressed more fully (but on a rather smaller scale!) by Pope Benedict XVI in the address that he was due to give in January at the University La Sapienza in Rome, but was prevented from giving. As well as once again addressing questions of faith and reason, Pope Benedict makes a case for the presence of a religious voice in a secular university, explicitly arguing that

"In the face of an a-historical reason that tries to construct itself through a-historical rationality, the wisdom of humanity as such -- the wisdom of the great religious traditions -- is to be valued as a reality that cannot be with impunity thrown into the dustbin of the history of ideas."

6. Tony Blair asserts the inalienable worth of every human being.

"Faith corrects, in a necessary and vital way, the tendency humankind has to relativism. It says there are absolutes – like the inalienable worth and dignity of every human being – that can never be sacrificed."

I really do not know what to make of this in the context of Tony Blair's voting record on pro-life issues. But it is there in the transcript.

7. Tony Blair does not speak with an ecclesial sense, referring to "faith" in a way that abstracts from any specific religion or content of belief.

Throughout, Tony Blair talks about "faith", or "people of faith", and similar. He also refers to "faiths" where we might more commonly talk about different religions, though he does name the major faiths. He also makes reference to "organised religion" rather than to "churches" or "denominations" or "religions". Nowhere do I think he refers to a "church". For someone who has recently been received into the Catholic Church, I find this a bit strange, since the Catholic Church does have such a strong sense of "Church" about it. It also reflects a language typical of those who view religion as a secular phenomenon, and not a religious one - an "organised religion" is a socially occuring phenomenon, and can be studied as such, whereas to refer to a "church" would be to admit something of divine origin in that phenomenon. It might well be that it represents an adjustment to the context in which he is speaking, rather than a lack of ecclesial sense in Tony Blair's personal faith. It does, though, seem to involve a detachment of the idea of faith (as a life stance) from its content (specific religious beliefs) into a kind of abstractness that will be difficult for individual religions to recognise.

8. Tony Blair makes a useful observation that politics is now less about left vs. right than about open vs. closed.

"The forces shaping the world at this moment are so strong and all tend in one direction. They are opening the world up. I sometimes say to people that in modern politics, the dividing line is often less between traditional left vs. right; but more about open vs. closed. Mass migration is changing communities, even countries. People communicate ideas and images instantly around the world, creating immediate political and ideological movements in a ferment of quickly devoured information. Economically the world system is ever more dependent on confidence, robust when things seem good, extraordinarily brittle when confidence dips. The world is interdependent today, economically, politically, even to a degree ideologically.

The divide, then, is between those who see this as positive - the opening up offering opportunity; and those who see it as threatening and wish to close it back down. As you can see from the Presidential race in the U.S., there are new questions that cross traditional Party lines: free trade vs. protection; engagement in foreign policy or isolationism; supporting immigration or opposing it. In these, the issue is less left vs right but open vs closed. And they all derive from a fear that globalisation is throwing people, cultures, countries together but with no common sense of values
or understanding of each other. "

I think that this is a useful characterisation of the present situation. Not only does it have relevance to political movements and parties, but to local communities and to individuals in those communities. It is relevant when we consider how an individual might react to a new neighbour from a different country, for example.