Tuesday 28 October 2008

Prague - here we come

There will be a gap in blogging here for a few days. We are going to Prague.

A key visit for me will be here:

This is the place in Wenceslaus Square where a Czech student, Jan Palach, set fire to himself in January 1969 (in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous August, which ended the "Prague spring"). Jan Palach's grave is in a cemetery just round the corner from the hotel where we will be staying. He burnt himself to death in a protest against the Soviet occupation. Wenceslaus Square is also the place where Vaclav Havel came into the open at a key moment of the "velvet revolution" in 1989, indicating that there was going to be change of government without repression.

I think we will also get here (C & A pulled out of the UK several years ago):

The BBC and good taste

John Dunne.

No, not the poet.

The former BBC Radio 2 presenter, who for many years presented the afternoon drive time programme.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when it was announced that John Dunne was going to retire from presenting his programme. The response from the listeners was OVERWHELMING.

John Dunne, you see, had a reputation for his courtesy and consideration. He was a lovely gentleman. He had for many years broadcast a programme that was a real pleasure to listen to. I recall his last programme, where his last interview was with Elton John (I think, correct me in the comments box if I am wrong). However, his interviewee had been briefed to turn the situation round and interview John ... It really was a wonderful piece of radio.

There was an uproar when Chris Evans was announced as successor in presenting the drive time programme. I contributed to that, thinking that Chris Evans was such an opposite (by reputation) to John Dunne that it was quite a blatant disregard of listeners to make this choice of presenter. I have to give Chris Evans credit, though, for not turning out to be anything like his reputation. There have been some moments where he has shown a real consideration for others involved in his show; and others where he mentions things from off-air conversations that he shouldn't really mention.

This is the BBC website's report of their apology for the recent antics of Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand. And I have just listened to a "Janet and John" story on the Terry Wogan show on Radio 2. These apparently innocuous stories each have a carefully threaded sexual innuendo, which becomes apparent in the punch line. The sale of CD collections of them have been used to fund raise for charity. This introduction of sexual reference has been an increasing feature of Terry Wogan's show over recent months.

I really would like to see further disciplinary action against Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand. Almost anyone else in a customer facing role who said/did anything like they did would face dismissal, possibly for gross misconduct.

And should we launch a boycott of Terry Wogan? And certainly don't buy the "Janet and John" CDs. It is a case of the "means" not justifying the "end". Terry - why can't your listeners come up with an alternative to "Janet and John" that does not have the innuendo?

John Dunne represents a role model too easily forgotten. Remember, BBC, the overwhelming response of the listeners when he left his programme.

Monday 27 October 2008

Benedict XVI not a "traditionalist"

I liked this post at Catholic Analysis. Quite interesting in the light of the way in which Pope Benedict could be viewed post Summorum Pontificum.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Synod and the web

A passing thought. I do not think I am the only blogger who feels in some way that they have been a protaganist in the Synod of Bishops that is now finishing in Rome. Two things, I think, contribute to this. One is the ready availability of information via electronically based news agencies such as ZENIT. The other is the readiness of the Synod organisation to publish, day by day, reports of the events in the Synod hall in a daily bulletin. This is particularly true for the willingness to publish summaries of the Bishops free interventions each day.

We have been allowed to feel that we, too, can take part in the conversation of the Synod. Synods of Bishops have become events that genuinely engage the whole of the Church.

A living experience of the Church as communion, made possible through the electronic media?

PS. I wonder which Synod Father it was who found their way to one of my posts about the Synod earlier this week? Well, I think I can be allowed to assume that a hit from a vatican.va address to a Synod post was one of the Bishops ....

Eucharistic Adoration for November

Liturgical irritability syndrome

A conversation yesterday reminded me that my personal "style" when it comes to prayer is strongly coloured by the Liturgy. This contrasts with people who have a very "devotional" style. The difference? I will tend to include an intention in my normal routine of prayer (eg remembering someone as I pray the intercessions of Morning Prayer) whereas a person with a more devotional style will find a prayer to the patron saint for that particular issue and start saying that prayer. It doesn't mean that I don't give attention to devotional (in the technical sense of non-Liturgical) aspects of the Church's life - themes that I adopt for Eucharistic Adorations in the parish usually follow the devotion associated with a particular month of the year or the Liturgical season. It does mean that I am a little bit laid back about devotions, though.

One devotion I am rather quiet on is that of praying for the dead during November. It isn't that I don't believe in doing it, and it is one aspect of the theme for our parish Adoration on 7th November; but I do feel a rather obsessive sense that seems to be associated with it during November. Catholicism that has a strong surrounding social culture (in England, perhaps the influence of Irish Catholicism) may contribute to this.

My style also colours my approach to Marian devotion. I do not have a separate devotion ot Our Lady; instead, my approach is that everything that I do in the Church should have a Marian character. This happens to leave me rather cool on Fatima, for example, or on the "Day with Mary" devotion; but not on Lourdes, though I probably see a visit there as much a visit in honour of St Bernadette as one in honour of the "white Lady" - don't ask me why. It seems to me to be a matter of one's own vocation in the Church, and other people may well have a different vocation than mine.

A liturgical style of prayer does, of course, mean that I am very sensitive to the way in which the Liturgy is celebrated. A devotional style of participation at Mass can cope with wayward clergy; but not a Liturgical style. I don't think there is anything in principle wrong with this kind of sensitivity; it is a mirror side to the entitlement of the lay faithful to have the Liturgy celebrated in accord with the mind of the Church.

However, it can become over-developed into a kind of irritability syndrome where everything imaginable causes annoyance.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Gay divorce

I suppose one should not use the word "divorce" to describe the dissolution of a civil partnership, it being a word most properly used to refer to the ending in civil law of a marriage. But it is interesting to see the report of the "first gay divorce" being carried by the BBC news website.

One interesting thing about the report is that the civil partnership involved has only lasted 22 months. This gives a balancing picture to that presented in the media of gay and lesbian couples who had been together for many years entering civil partnerships, giving an impression that these relationships are uniformly stable. No, these relationships can break up and they can be shortlived.

Equality kicks in, of course, and there is now the question of settlements between the ex-partners of civil partnerships - according to the BBC report the same rules apply as for marriages. I can see civil partnerships becoming less popular in favour of "living together", in rather the same way as for marriage, if large settlements become a "risk factor" for gay or lesbian couples. But in a discussion in the BBC report of the payments that might be made by one partner to another, there is the following gem:

Gay unions are statistically less likely to produce children and therefore it is likely that less maintenance orders will be made.

Perhaps I should not have done so, but I did have a good giggle when I reached this sentence ...

Catholic Education Service: some thoughts

The Catholic Education Service (CES) comes in for some serious criticism. This is extending now to its engagement with the UK governments recent enquiry and announcement with regard to sex education in schools. As a general principle, and not just in the education sector, I believe that Catholics should engage with the professional environments in which they work, with the difficulties and political judgements that that involves. This is the faith-culture boundary.

In this context, I do think there is something to be said in defence of the CES. Even this week, within my role as a trade union branch secretary, I have seen situations in the context of consultations between trade unions and management where trade union colleagues have simply pulled up the draw bridge and dug their heels in rather than engaging with the issues at stake for the consultation. The result has been a failure on their part to influence on behalf of their members - and, in consequence, they have made it difficult for me to influence on behalf of the members I represent.

As far as the sex education issue goes, thinking from the political point of view: if the engagement of the CES with those discussions means that they can establish in the DCSF provisions for sex education the freedom for Catholic schools to teach sex education in accordance with the teaching of the Church, that is a useful political gain. The media coverage of the recent announcement also suggests that the language of parental consultation and involvement is present.

I am also aware of the robust defence of religious schools that has been undertaken by the CES in response to teacher union attacks on such schools. Again, the CES has a position in this political environment that is useful, as politics. That defence might well focus on the social mix of many Catholic schools, compliance with the schools admissions code, contribution to social cohesion. But the fact that the CES are there to do it is politically useful.

There are perhaps questions that can be asked about the role of the CES.

1. A lot of the work that they do provides administrative/practical policy support to Catholic schools and dioceses (eg on contractual matters). So far as I can see, their activity is largely focussed in this sort of area. Should they be stronger in promoting to the Catholic education sector a fully Catholic vision of education, and in particular, of religious education?

2. If the CES acts to represent the Bishops and their dioceses on educational matters, how far should that involve a stronger public stance with regard to a fully Catholic vision of education? Clearly, there is an element of political judgement here, but the CES's critics are clearly looking for a stronger public stance. How far is that a reasonable expectation?

To exemplify these questions, I am looking as a write this post at the "Levels of attainment in Religious Education in Catholic Schools and Colleges" published by the Bishop's Conference Department for Catholic Education and Formation. This can clearly be seen in relation to the structure and levels of attainment of the non-statutory framework for Religious Education, widely used in preparing syllabuses for non-denominational schools and familiar from discussions among RE professionals from the time before the framework. Fine, engagement with the surrounding professional environment, a good and sensible thing for Catholic schooling to be doing. But this document does not explicitly relate attainment levels - ie assessment - to the content of the 1996 Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools (a strong document setting out the content of Catholic RE across the key stages, relating it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Vatican II). Okay, some Catholic schools have significant numbers of non-Catholic pupils and it is appropriate to have an assessment framework that can be used with such pupils; but for Catholic pupils, should not the assessment framework be better focussed to assess the Catholic RE curriculum? In practice, is the RE department meant to take the Curriculum Directory (ie a Catholic perspective) or the Levels of Attainment (which can be a non-Catholic framework) as the determining factor for its curriculum planning?

There seems to me to be an unresolved tension here. And it touches on an area of evaluation of Catholic schools which may be rather sensitive. Are these schools succeeding in handing on the Catholic faith to their Catholic pupils? Why should these schools not try to assess this in some way? This should not, and need not, involve an inquistion into the faith practice of the pupils, but why should it not involve an assessment of their knowledge of Catholic teaching and some very basic indicators of their response to it (assessing "learning from" religion and pupil responses to beauty etc are recognised in the wider RE world)?

The final message from the Synod of Bishops

I am posting below ZENIT's report of the summary of the final message from the Synod of Bishops. The full text can be found here. I would normally post the link rather than paste a full report - but this looks so special that I feel justified in posting the full report.

I think the message is beautiful, in the richest and deepest sense of the word beautiful. The modern encouragement to "enjoy!" is also applicable - again in the deepest sense of that word.

Summary of Final Synod Message "Grow and Deepen Your Knowledge and Love for the Word"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a summary of the concluding message of the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The final message was approved today at the 21st general congregation.

The theme of the assembly was "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, With all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord as well as ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:2-3). With the Apostle Paul's greeting - in this year dedicated to him - we, the Synodal Fathers gathered in Rome for the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, with the Holy Father Benedict XVI, address to you a message full of reflection and proposals on the Word of God that has been the center of our assembly's work. It is a message that is entrusted to our pastors in the first place, to the many, generous catechists and to all those who guide you in a loving listening and reading of the Bible. Now, to you, we would like to outline the soul and the substance of this text, so that it may grow and deepen your knowledge and love for the Word of God. There are four cardinal points on the horizon that we invite you to know and that we will express through just as many images.

First of all there is the divine Voice. It echoes in the beginnings of Creation, breaking the silence of nothingness and giving origin to the marvels of the universe. It is a Voice that penetrates in history, wounded by human sin and distressed by suffering and death. It also sees the Lord walking with humanity to offer His grace, His Covenant, His salvation. It is a Voice that enters into the pages of the Holy Scriptures, which we read today in the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, who was given as the light of truth to it and to its pastors.

Also, as Saint John wrote, "The Word became flesh" (1:14). Here then the Face appears. It is Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the eternal and infinite God, but also the mortal man, tied to an historical era, to a people and to a land. He lives the exhausting existence of humanity till His death, but rises glorious and lives forever. He makes our encounter with the Word of God perfect. He unveils to us "the full meaning" and unity of the Holy Scriptures, therefore Christianity is a religion that has a person at its center, Jesus Christ, the One who reveals the Father. He makes us understand that the Scriptures are "flesh", that is to say human words to be understood and studied in their way of expressing, but that also preserve the light of divine truth within, which we can only live and contemplate with the Holy Spirit.

It is the same Spirit of God that leads us to the third cardinal point in our itinerary, the Home of the divine word, that is to say the Church, which, as Saint Luke suggested (Ac 2:42), is supported by four ideal columns. There is "teaching", which is reading and understanding the Bible in the announcement made to all, in catechesis, in the homily, through a proclamation that involves mind and heart. Then there is "the breaking of the bread", which is the Eucharist, the source and the summit of the life and the mission of the Church. Like what happened that day at Emmaus, the faithful are invited to nourish themselves in the liturgy of the table of the Word of God and Body of Christ. A third column is "prayer" with "psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God" (Col 3:16). It is the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church's prayer destined to give rhythm to the days and times of the Christian year. There is also the Lectio divina, the prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures able to lead, in meditation, in prayer, in contemplation, to the encounter with Christ, the living Word of God. And, finally, there is "brotherly communion" because to be true Christians it will not suffice being "those who hear the word of God" but also those who "put it into practice" (Lk 8:21) through love's labors. In the home of the Word of God we also can meet the brothers and sisters from other Churches and Christian communities who, even in division, live a real unity, if not a full one, through the worship and love for the divine Word.

Thus we reach the last image of the spiritual map. It is the road the Word of God walks upon: Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations [...] and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you...what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops" (Mt 28:19-20; 10:27). The Word of God must run through the world's streets which today are also those of computer, television and virtual communication. The Bible must enter into families so that parents and children read it, pray with it and that it may be their lamp for the steps on the way to existence (cf. Ps 119:105). The Holy Scriptures must also enter into the schools and in the cultural areas because for centuries they were the main reference for art, literature, music, thinking and the same common moral. Their symbolic, poetic and narrative richness makes them a banner of beauty for faith as well as for culture, in a world often scarred by ugliness and lowliness. However, the Bible also shows us the breath of pain that rises from the earth, goes towards the cry from the oppressed and the laments of the miserable. At the summit it has the cross where Christ, alone and abandoned, lives the tragedy of the most atrocious suffering and death. Because of this presence of the Son of God, the darkness of evil and death is irradiated by the Paschal light and by the hope of glory. But on the roads of the world, the brothers and sisters of other Churches and Christian communities walk with us also, even while divided, live a real unity if not a full one, through the worship and love for the Word of God. Along the paths of the world we often meet men and women of other religions that listen and faithfully practice the commands of their holy books and who, with us, can build a world of peace and light, because God "wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).

Dear brothers and sisters, guard the Bible in your houses, fully read, study and understand its pages, transform them into prayer and witness of life, listen to it with love and faith in the liturgy. Create the silence to effectively hear the Word of the Lord and hold a silence after the listening, because it will continue to dwell, live and speak to you. Make it resound at the beginning of your day so that God will have the first word and let it echo in you in the evenings so that the last word will be God's.
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace" (Ac 20:32). With the same expression used by Saint Paul in his farewell speech to the heads of the Church in Ephesus, also the Synodal Fathers entrust the faithful of the communities dispersed throughout the world to the divine word, which is also judgment but above all grace, which cuts like a sword but is sweet as a honeycomb. It is powerful and glorious and guides us on the roads of history with Jesus' hand, who you like us love with an imperishable love (cf. Eph 6:24).

Thursday 23 October 2008

Adoration on tour - a great success!

This evening's Holy Hour at St Mary's, Hornchurch was a great success. About 40 people remained after the evening Mass, which had been well attended because of the induction of a new member into the Knights of St Columba. And they want more ...

I gave a series of catecheses about prayer, at one point inviting those present to come forward and genuflect before the Eucharist on the altar as a prayer of adoration. This proved a very beautiful moment, as people came up and knelt along the edge of the steps into the sanctuary.

I didn't think to take my camera, so a photo will have to wait until next time.

UK: compulsory sex education ages 5-16

The BBC News website report of today's announcement that Sex and Relationships Education is to be made compulsory in state schools from age 5 to age 16 can be found here. The reporting today suggests that, though a statutory programme of study will be prepared, schools with a religious character will be able to teach it in a way that accords with their faith beliefs. Parents' right to withdraw their children from the sex education provision looks as if it will remain, despite the statutory programme of study.

But, some questions remain:

1. How will the tension between a statutory programme of study (not yet determined or published) and talk of respecting each schools own ethos and parental context be resolved? This is particularly pertinent to schools with a religious character. Will the programme of study be sufficiently widely framed to allow such schools to teach it without contradicting the teaching of their faith?

2. Will non-statutory guidance that may well accompany the programme of study become the key determinant of what most schools actually do? And who will write such guidance? And will particular resources be supplied/promoted to schools in preference over others?

3. Will teachers who do not wish to teach the programme of study, or parts of the programme of study, out of conscientious objection have their conscientious objection respected?

4. How far will governors of schools actually exercise their responsibility for the curriculum in their schools, and resist a programme that does not accord with their ethos? Or will they just "toe the line" and follow "the guidance", which will not be statutory anyway?

5. And there is the problem of the word "relationships". Will schools that wish to do so be allowed to talk about marriage between one man and one woman as the appropriate context for sexual relationship? Or will the question of marriage be avoided?

At one time, I suspect that the world of education would have been horrified by the idea that central government should determine the curriculum of all state schools. The introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, and the subsequent accomodation of teachers to that regime, seems to have broken down this taboo.

But it is quite a thought, isn't it. The Department for Children, Schools and Family is who will determine what is taught in state schools about sexuality.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

UK Parliament and abortion

It has been intriguing following the media debate surrounding the pro-abortion amendments proposed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that is to get its third reading in the House of Commons today.

At the weekend there was the "trading" of multiply signed letters in The Times. The first in the print edition and on-line editions for last Friday argued for change in the abortion law. The second appeared in the on-line edition for Saturday - I do not know if it also appeared in the print edition - arguing that the question should not be reduced to one of choice only and that there were important moral issues that were also relevant, such as the protection in law that should be given to the child before birth. There was an intriguing mix of names on the latter letter.

Then the London Evening Standard carried a report headlined "Harman to scrap vote on abortion law reform". This reported the intention of the Leader of the Commons to table a motion that would limit the time available for the third reading of the Bill, effectively making it highly unlikely that there will be time to take and debate the pro-abortion amendments that have been tabled. "Not the right time" and "not the right vehicle" were referred to as explanations for this decision. But the report also included the following, attributed to "government sources", in respect of fears that the House of Lords would subsequently vote in pro-life amendments:

If we open this up in the Commons then the Lords will try to do the same - and we can't be certain how things will go in the Lords ...At the end of the day this is a Bill about embryology, not abortion.

And when this was reported on the Today programme, BBC Radio 4's flagship morning current affairs programme, the rumour was of a deal being struck with the MP's bringing forward the pro-abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill so that Government time will be made available for a Private Members Bill on the subject in two years time. The original Abortion Act in 1967 went through because the Government at the time allowed Government time so that the Bill could complete its stages in Parliament - without that Government time, it would not have had sufficient time to get through. Deja vu, in style.

But two years time is after the next General Election. The complexion of the House of Commons could be rather different by then, though inlikely to be thoroughly pro-life, and reform of the House of Lords might have been further progressed to reduce the chances of them interfering with pro-abortion legislation.

I am intrigued, though, by the following two thoughts, and their implications for the balance of power within the Labour party with regard to abortion:

1. Is the Labour government trying to go in to the next general election with a "neutral" history on abortion law reform, whereas if it had allowed the amendments to the HFE Bill to go through (on a government Bill, with a government whip), it would have been justifiably labelled as being a pro-abortion government?

2. Is the Private Members Bill, that is allowed Government time for completion, a way of supporting abortion "at a distance", whilst somewhat unconvincingly trying to claim neutrality on the subject?

PS. John Smeaton has posted on the part played by politicians from Northern Ireland in these developments.

Supreme Knight to the Synod

I found the following suggestions of Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus in the United States, during an intervention as an auditor of the Synod of Bishops quite interesting. They are reported here by ZENIT.

The knight went on to make two proposals, both aimed at providing greater formation for the laity.

"We suggest that a compendium to the lectionary be developed that coordinates sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the Sunday readings in order to provide a greater richness in Sunday preaching and a greater connection between the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith and holy Scripture," he said.

Secondly, "to enhance greater formation of the laity in 'higher studies' of the Word of God […] we recommend Catholic universities enhance their core philosophy and theology requirements to include the entire New Testament with the intention of promoting a realistic and loving knowledge of the faith by encouraging, in the words of Dei Verbum, 'a pious reading of the Bible.'"

The first thought is reflected in part of the allocutio that I prepared this week, on the opening verses of St Paul's first Letter to the Thessalonians. The following are my notes trying to present the teaching contained (or implied) in these verses, which were the second reading at Mass last Sunday. You will see the references to the Compendium of the Catechism.

“Grace to you and peace”: an indication of a Christian life lived and shared in common, even though separated by distance - the Church as “communion”, common life in what is believed, in the same Sacramental life, in the same succession of bishops from the Apostles to the present day (and a common hope and charity).[1]

“..in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ …in the Holy Spirit”: an expression of belief in the Trinity, and a very Liturgical formulation - we living the Christian life here on earth are drawn in to this life of communion within the God-head

“… work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope …”: these are the three theological virtues - they have God himself as their origin, motive and direct object; they bestow on us the capacity to live in relationship with the Trinity; infused by grace, they are the foundation and energising force of our Christian moral activity (love of God above all things, and love of neighbour for the love of God)[2]

Summary: “communion” as a life shared between all Christian believers wherever (or whenever) they live, and as a life of entering into the inner Trinitarian life of God himself

[1] cf Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Qn.161.
[2] cf Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Qn 384, and 385-388.

The second suggestion - that the entire New Testament be covered in courses in philosophy and theology in Catholic universities - also strikes a chord. Following studies part-time is clearly going to be different than following them full time, and this may be part of the explanation. But, in my theology degree I only undertook detailed studied of selected books of the New Testament, and do not feel that I undertook a full and broadly based study of the New Testament. I think the Supreme Knight has a point, though clearly such study of the New Testament needs to be integrated into the wider studies of university courses.

Monday 20 October 2008

Patriarch Bartholomew I on the "spiritual senses of Scripture"

ZENIT have posted the text of the address given by Patriarch Bartholomew I at Vespers on Saturday evening.

That Bartholomew I is able to play such a prominent role at the Synod of Bishops, and, on this occasion, speak at a celebration over which Pope Benedict XVI presided, has very interesting ecumenical implications.

The following is an extract from Bartholomew I's address:

..... we should like to concentrate on three aspects of the subject, namely: on hearing and speaking the Word of God through the Holy Scriptures; on seeing God’s Word in nature and above all in the beauty of the icons; and finally on touching and sharing God’s Word in the communion of saints and the sacramental life of the Church. For all these are, we think, crucial in the life and mission of the Church.In so doing, we seek to draw on a rich Patristic tradition, dating to the early third century and expounding a doctrine of five spiritual senses. For listening to God’s Word, beholding God’s Word, and touching God’s Word are all spiritual ways of perceiving the unique divine mystery. Based on Proverbs 2.5 about “the divine faculty of perception (αἴσθησις),” Origen of Alexandria claims: This sense unfolds as sight for contemplation of immaterial forms, hearing for discernment of voices, taste for savoring the living bread, smell for sweet spiritual fragrance, and touch for handling the Word of God, which is grasped by every faculty of the soul.The spiritual senses are variously described as “five senses of the soul,” as “divine” or “inner faculties,” and even as “faculties of the heart” or “mind.” This doctrine inspired the theology of the Cappadocians (especially Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) as much as it did the theology of the Desert Fathers (especially Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius the Great).

The three main sections of Bartholomew I's talk are then: 1. Hearing and speaking the word through Scripture, 2. Seeing the Word of God - the beauty of icons and of nature and 3. Touching and Sharing the Word of God -- The Communion of Saints and the Sacraments of Life. Apart from the beauty of his presentation and its richly Patristic roots, Bartholomew I's talk also places his subject in a very contemporary context. Well worth a read.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Hug a saint

During our visit to Quebec for the International Eucharistic Congress, Zero chose to "hug a saint". [Now wouldn't that be an interesting variation on speed dating - with finding your favourite saint as the object. You would probably need a lot of saints to make it work ... and lots of people willing to dress up appropriately and tell their life story ....]

Anyway, the saints involved here were the Canadian martyrs. Two of these martyrs worked for a time among the native Indian population that then lived in the area of Quebec in which we stayed during the Eucharistic Congress (though it was a forest area outside of Quebec in the period 1650-1700). If we were not celebrating a Sunday tomorrow, we would be able to celebrate their feast day - Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions, Martyrs.

Adoration goes on tour

I will be collaborating with the Knights of St Columba's (KSC) local council for a Holy Hour on Thursday of the coming week. The intention of this, as I have understood it, is to encourage the members of the KSC council in their life of prayer, though all will be welcome. A new member (not me) will be recieved into membership of the Council during the Mass preceding the Holy Hour.

Liturgy of the Word for Children

Many parishes have a practice by which, at the "family Mass" (or the Mass at which most families attend, even if it is not officially designated a "family Mass"), the youngest children leave the Church for their own Liturgy of the Word, returning to the Church in time for the offertory. The current issue of The Sower has an interesting article on the subject of these "Liturgy of the Word for Children" arrangements.

The article asks the question: what is the purpose of a separate Liturgy of the Word for Children at Sunday Mass? Not childminding and not, primarily, catechesis (though there is a catechetical element to a Liturgy of the Word for Children). It is:

  • to have an adapted liturgical celebration, centred on the Mass readings, but which is more accessible for the children (so they can participate better than if they remained with adults in the Church, often served by adapting the language of the readings used)

  • to lead the children into the Liturgy of the Eucharist that follows it

  • to gradually lead the children into full participation in the Liturgy of the Word as it is celebrated in the Church with the (mainly adult) congregation.
The Liturgy of the Word for Children is not therefore an end in itself; it is directed towards a purpose that might be summarised by the word "participation". This gives rise to some of the practical indications given in the article, and in the example of practice to which it referred:

  • the need for children to respond to the readings they have heard should not be reduced to questions based simply on recall of the story of the readings or to a worksheet based activity - time for reflection, perhaps in silence, or singing might provide better ways to respond

  • in the example described in the article, a decision was made to hold a Children's Liturgy of the Word once a month, and not every Sunday - thus meeting the need for those children at the older end of the age range to grow in their participation in the main Liturgy, and alleviating issues relating to the question of the adults involved also losing their participation in the main Liturgical celebration

  • are completed worksheets brought in to the Church and presented to the priest at the offertory giving a wrong impression of the Children's celebration as a kind of Sunday school rather than a Liturgy - the article suggests they would be better taken home, either for completion at home or as a reminder of the readings

  • adult leaders of such Children's Liturgy of the Word need suitable knowledge of the Scriptures, since they cannot present to children what they do not themselves possess - so access to suitable orthodox Scriptural commentaries and, perhaps, a course about interpreting Scripture according to the mind of the Church are needed.
The whole article is worth reading, offering a very clear pastoral reflection on something that in many parishes is simply taken for granted as being what is done, without discernment as to its effectiveness or purpose.

Personally, I have always wondered about taking children out from that part of the Mass which can be celebrated most visually - incense, candles and a (beautiful) book of the Gospels carried in procession, for example. It is also a part of the Mass with several different postures and actions - standing/sitting, striking of chest/signs of the cross/turning towards the ambo as the Gospel is read - which are accessible to children as a way of participating even before they "get all the words".

You can subscribe to The Sower on-line at http://www.maryvale.ac.uk/ or (in Canada and the United States) http://www.thesowerreview.org/ .

Friday 17 October 2008

The Holy Trinity in Catechesis

The October-December 2008 issue of The Sower came through my letter box today. This is the magazine published by Maryvale Institute, in collaboration with Franciscan University, Steubenville.

One article is entitled "Loss and Retrieval of the Holy Trinity in Catechesis". It is an adaptation of an article that appeared in the September-October 2008 issue of FAITH Magazine, that can be found here.

The General Directory for Catechesis speaks of the necessary internal structure of catechesis as follows:
"every mode of presentation must always be Christocentric-trinitarian: Through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit" (cf Ephesians 2:18). If catechesis lacks these three elements or neglects their proper relationship, the Christian message can certainly lose its proper character".

The last parts of the article are an analysis of the reasons for a loss of the sense of the Trinity in our catechesis, and suggestions for correcting those reasons. A couple of the corrections suggested:

... a solution here is for every priest, parent and catechist to be attentive to the books and conference speakers in this regard: to check resources for the occurrence of the terms "Blessed Trinity", "God the Father", Jesus, Son of God" and to take seriously any indication of avoidance of such terms.

Responding to resources and programmes that explicitly decline to refer to God as Father or Son, on the grounds of promoting inclusiveness in language, the article suggests:

The answer, of course, is not to throw out the greatest mystery and revelation of all time, but the method that is designed explicitly to hinder its transmission. One initial way to check a programme is to look for explicit references to Jesus as God, Son of God, Son of the Father, God made man. Priests responsible for catechesis and key catechists who assist them, need to grow in an appreciation of the 'pedagogy of God', a pedagogy by which catechetical methods can be judged as to whether they are a "guarentee of fidelity to content" or not.

These criteria of judgement provide a positive way of evaluating the official resources prepared for celebrating Youth Sunday.

I think you will find that the materials on the website fail these criteria of judgement - almost totally. [We can perhaps see the suggested materials for the Penitential rite affirming the divinity of Christ by referring to "Lord Jesus", but I could find no Trinitarian reference anywhere.] The following prayer is quite typical, and totally lacking in any Christological or Trinitarian expression. The contrast with the Liturgical formulation of addressing prayers to the Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit could not be clearer.

Brilliant God,we celebrate your wonderful world and we thank you for the gift of your creation.On this National Youth Sunday inspire us, we pray, to Reclaim the Future!Help us to see how our actions today will make a difference tomorrow. And bring us together in faith to make that difference a positive thing. Amen.

How many of our parish priests will apply the catechetical discernment suggested in the Sower article to the Youth Sunday resources? And how many catechists will realise that there is even a discernment to be undertaken?

Today's Times

I am sometimes accused of not reading the paper, or not reading a book. Just to prove the contrary, these are two items that appear on the "Daily Universal Register" page of today's Times.

The last word
"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop a speech when words become superfluous" Ingrid Bergman

Saint's Day
St Ignatius of Antioch, 1st Century, is patron saint of throat disease. He longed to shed his blood for Christ and got his chance in AD107. He was brought before the emperor, confessed Christ and was then devoured by lions.

Rather more serious is the letter supporting change to abortion law here in the UK - which peddles the idea that patients agree to their treatment on an "on request" basis, and so should be allowed to "request" abortion without hindrance from medical professionals. I posted on this misconception of the nature of medicine a little while ago, and it is misleading to suggest that examples of patients declining their consent to what would be the normally accepted treatment offered by the medical profession can be equated to patients having a freedom simply to request what treatment they like. That the lettered signatories of this letter should fall for it leaves me a little agog.

PS. I have updated the wording of this last paragraph from what I earlier posted - to use the word "request", which better expresses the point I was trying to make.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Feast of Christ the King

The official materials that have been prepared for Youth Sunday here in England and Wales are coming in for some fierce criticism. Catholic and Loving it has the low down, first of all here, and then here.

Herewith is the text of a letter that I will be sending out to the leaders of the uniformed organisations (Brownies, Cubs, etc) in our parish next week. All done with the parish priest's knowledge and permission.

Feast of Christ the King 2008

15th October 2008


Celebration of Evening Prayer for the Feast of Christ the King (Youth Sunday)

I am writing to invite you and your organization to join again in a time of Eucharistic Adoration, with Evening Prayer, to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. As you may be aware, this Feast is also marked as Youth Sunday in the Dioceses of England and Wales, and so it is quite appropriate that young people should take a lead in celebrating this day. The celebration will take place from 5 pm to 6 pm on Sunday 23rd November 2008.

My intention is that we should start the celebration with a procession (including standards) to the Altar to expose the Blessed Sacrament. We will then have a short time of Adoration, perhaps with a reading and catechesis. This will be followed by our praying the Evening Prayer of the Feast of Christ the King, as we did last year. There will be plenty to sing and to join in.

1. I suggest that the Rainbows and Beavers help to carry candles etc in the procession at the beginning and again at the end. We can arrange all of this on the day itself.

2. I suggest that the Cubs provide three readers, and the Brownies three readers, for the intercessions during Evening Prayer. (I will get the prayers to you nearer
the time.)

3. I suggest that the Scouts and Guides help lead the saying of the psalms during Evening Prayer. We can make the arrangements for this on the day itself, though I have suggested that the Guides might lead us in singing the second psalm of Evening Prayer.

I hope that these arrangements are suitable, and that you will be able to join us for this celebration. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you think we should do anything differently.

Yours sincerely

This event has been very enthusiastically supported over the last three years by the young people and their group leaders. But my posters will no doubt have to compete with the nationally produced ones on the parish noticeboard, with most people not realising the implications of the contrast.

An unfortunate aspect of the official materials is that, despite their presentation as ideas for use at Mass on the Feast of Christ the King, they are actually Liturgically un-usable. Some elements could be used for, say, a school assembly or RE lesson - the skit on the Gospel as a news headlines lends itself to this, though it might be seen as being irreverent or satirical towards the original Scriptural text and might need handling with care as a result.

Another unfortunate aspect is that I think the "livesimply" programme can be integrated into the tradition of the Church's teaching and living of poverty. This would require a much greater Christological and eschatological grounding than I have seen in the materials associated with this programme. With that integration, I believe it has the potential to become a very powerfully evangelising, and contemporary, expression of a part of the Church's spiritual heritage.

Synod on the Word of God: a summary so far

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has given a speech at the Synod summarising in a series of questions the interventions made so far. These questions provide the agenda for the working groups that will now follow.

At a first glance, I noticed Question 6. "Is it possible to revise the Lectionary and modify the selections of the readings from the Old and New Testament?" Having just done a kind of study of the (so-called) continuous reading of the Letter to the Philippians that has been the second reading at Sunday Mass for the last few weeks, I have found it quite difficult to perceive the rationale behind the particular selections and to pick out clear teaching points. Last Sunday, for example, I had to look at the verses omitted from the "split text" of the Liturgical reading before I could make real sense of the reading.

I am also struck by the way in which a number of the questions touch on the idea that Scripture is first of all "heard" in its Liturgical context - true, and perhaps a particularly Catholic insight compared to other Christian denominations - and this needs to be related to how it is "heard" outside of the Liturgy.

It is implied in some of the questions, but there is no explicit reference to the insights that movements in the Church with a particular charism with regard to Scripture can offer. I hope that this does not prove to be a weakness in the forthcoming work of the Synod fathers.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Someone else's rant - on the HPV virus

Herewith Catholicmomof 10's rant on this issue. Her word for it - see the tags.

Exams test schools, not pupils

I have found an interesting "sub-text" listening to Radio 4's PM programme this evening. This was providing prominent coverage of the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, that end of Key Stage tests for 14 year olds will be discontinued immediately. These tests, taken in maths, English and science, have been taken by pupils at a kind of mid-point between entry into secondary school and GCSE examinations taken at age 16.

Why not end the external tests taken by pupils at age 10 as the come to the end of their primary education, just before transfer to secondary school? No, they are here to stay, because they are a valuable tool that allows parents and the local community to see how well primary schools in their area are performing. We can remove the tests at Key Stage 3 because they are not seen as providing useful information about the performance of the schools - GCSE and GCE A-level results are regarded as providing that information. This the response of the Secretary of State.

This does of course have an interesting consequence for schools. They will want the best test/examination results regardless of consideration for their pupils. If "spoon feeding" ups the results, spoon feed and thereby largely do the learning for the pupils (even though students who then progress to AS and A-level courses end up lacking the independence in learning needed for success at that level, certainly in Physics). Set up extra compulsory teaching after school (sorry, provide revision classes), regardless of the increased pressure that creates for staff and the fact that this involves a transfer of responsibility for learning from pupils to teachers.

And I thought that assessment was meant to be for the benefit of the pupils ..... Silly me.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Nasty politics

Fr Peter Weatherby has a couple of posts relating to the British National Party. These are worth visiting for what they reveal about the nature of that Party and its supporters.

Read I heard it in the Coachmakers, and then Freedom of speech.

Hands up if you want to be a catechist!

From a parish newsletter this weekend:

Catechists What does this word mean? Simply put, those who pass on the faith to others. In effect this is all of US. We need more people who would be committed to pass on the faith to children, young adults and adults. There are many excuses. None of us have any time to spare! Yet we can make time for all sorts of social events. At present we definitely need more Catechists (faith helpers) for the Confirmation programme. If you can help in any way please contact Fr a.s.a.p.

Am I the only person who finds this an utterly inadequate way to choose catechists in a parish?

There is also a 'Course for Catechists' that begins on Tuesday 4th November ...There are eight sessions for the timetable that finishes on 13th June. It would be wonderful if any parishioner would like to join this course. The parish will pay.

I would have thought it better to train as a catechist before starting working in a parish - and that is before any consideration is given to the quality/content of the diocesan training being offered. Ah, but if your catechist is a "faith helper" rather than someone who teaches the faith, and therefore needs to know the faith and have some idea about how to teach it, then I don't suppose it matters too much ....

Perhaps I should offer the parish priest a copy of the General Directory for Catechesis - and the prospective Confirmation candidates a complementary copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church ....

Homily Agony .....

O I do hope that the Holy Father takes up the suggestion of a "Year of Preaching", made by one of the Bishop's at the Synod. I was this evening [not in my home parish, incidentally, so I am protecting the anonymity of the guilty party] subjected to a homily that went off up a side alley, and then persisted in meandering around it well beyond the time that, at a political party conference, the red light would have gone on and the microphone been switched off ....

Now there is certainly an inappropriate way for the laity to criticise the parish priest's homily - especially if it has been that bit too "relevant" to their situation and challenged them in their living of the Christian life - and any criticism should not constitute an attack or attempt to undermine the parish priest. Criticism should also be offered courteously. But, on the other hand, there is a certain rightful accountability to which I think a parish priest can be held by his parishioners. A basic justice that a parish priest owes to his hearers is to decide properly what he wants to say, and to undertake a basic level of preparation of it, before he arrives at the ambo or pulpit; and then to resist any temptation to meander off ........

At Mass the lay faithful are rather a captive audience, and I can't help but feel that that is sometimes open to abuse by a parish priest.

On a more positive point. How often do parish priests ask their parishioners what they would like them to preach about? If the homily is intended to meet the pastoral needs of the hearers, this seems a fairly basic way of the parish priest trying to achieve that. It doesn't mean that he has to say what the punters want to hear, but he can at least try to address their anxieties.

I tried this some years ago when I was asked to give a talk to the parents of the children making their first Holy Communion in the parish. I (innocently, in teacher mode) assumed that the parish priest would have an idea of a topic to fit in with his programme of four parents sessions. "Oh, anything you like" was the unhelpful reply from him. So off I went to do my market research among the parents. I did get some useful pointers from one parent, and the following gem from another, this latter in the foyer of our local Sainsbury's, on a Saturday morning, in rather a loud voice: "Oh, sex, drugs and rock and roll". I didn't at the time, but now wish I had gently pointed out that I was too young to remember those days ...

If you want to know what I actually said, read "The Presence of Jesus in the Family" in FAITH Magazine May/June 2003. The talk as delivered wasn't quite as academic as the write up of it, particularly the section about the Liturgy.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Three items from the Synod of Bishops

ZENIT are carrying a report of an intervention by Bishop Luis Tagle, of the Phillipines. This intervention addressed the question of listening to the Word, so nicely complements earlier interventions about preaching. I have not been able to find a full text, only ZENITs report, which can be found here. Bishop Tagle gave one of the main catecheses at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec earlier this year.

Bearing in mind a concept of the Code of Canon Law as being "applied ecclesiology", I found the following intervention interesting. Text also from ZENIT. My observation [in italics].

-- H.E. Most. Rev. Francesco COCCOPALMERIO, Titular Archbishop of Celiana,
President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Text

But now I would like to propose something more specific, in other words, more relevant to my particular work in the Roman Curia and in the service of the Pope. As President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and so responsible for ensuring the Church's legislation is always up to date, I ask myself if such an important meeting and on such a determining theme for the life of the Holy Church cannot and should not make a significant contribution to the Law of the Church itself, in a particular way in the Code of canon law.

To clarify this thought I will provide an absolutely elementary example. Canon 276 on the spiritual life of the clergy states: "[The Clergy] are to nourish their spiritual life at the twofold table of the Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist..." (§ 2, no. 2). The text is valuable, but it refers only to the celebration of the Eucharist. When it then goes on to speak of personal prayer, it affirms merely: "they are exhorted to engage regularly in mental prayer" (§ 2, no. 5). The expression "mental prayer" is absolutely clear, but dated. It might be, instead, that this is the place in which to "exhort the clergy to practice daily the lectio divina".

To sum up my proposition it is that the conclusion of the Synod, with the consent of the Holy Father, should also become a task of reflection entrusted to the Dicasteries of the Curia, with the special service of stimulating and coordinating entrusted to the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts [a touch of Vatican politics here?], so that they may propose to the Supreme Legislator the necessary changes to the rules of the Church as regards the particular field of the Word of God.

This next is an interesting "aside" intervention relating to one aspect of the Instrumentum Laboris. I cite it because of its immediate relevance to developments in the UK. My observations [in italics].

-- H. Em. Card. Paul Josef CORDES, President of the Pontifical Council "Cor

In the civilized world, care for one's neighbour in need is, at the same time, a cultural matter. The majority of world religions - such as Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism - have learnt from Christianity [they share this with Christianity, but that may not be the same as saying they have learnt it from Christianity] and made it their own to foster love of neighbour. Hence, for number 39 of the Instrumentum laboris to demand love of neighbour for the Church's members, does not seem to be the most urgent task today.

In the present cultural context, it would be much more important to reflect back to the tree that produces the fruit. We need to become more conscious of the biblical roots of humanitarian action and strengthen these. For Divine Revelation binds the commandment to love one's neighbour to that of love of God from which it stems. In the preaching of Jesus, the duty to love appears as a double commandment. Precisely to show the love of the Heavenly Father (cf. Jn 10:32) Jesus Himself, the definitive model of love of neighbour, "went about doing good and healing all" (Acts 10:38). The Pastors of the Church will thus be careful not to simply abandon ecclesial aid institutions to the general climate of philanthropy. Rather they will recognise in the sensitivity of people today the KAIROS to reveal God as the one who enables every "Good Samaritan" deed: it is the announcement of the love of God that grants the capacity to love our neighbour. For this very reason, Cor Unum organized this past June Spiritual Exercises for leaders of Catholic aid agencies in America. The substantial positive feedback is proof that our collaborators are begging for the personal encounter with God. The theocentric emphasis does not water down the commitment to work for justice in society, which the Instrumentum laboris erroneously describes as the "first form of charity" (no. 39); indeed, love surpasses justice many times over (cf. I Co 13). When, for those who are questioning and seeking, the service of the Church's aid agencies and the individual Christian does not show God clearly, we forsake a function of the Church that is decisive for these times of ours. For the man of today needs this connection to God more than anything else. The first Encyclical of the Holy Father, Deus caritas est, unmistakably affirms the theological truth that, in their dioceses, Bishops are ultimately responsible for the Church's charitable mission (no. 32). They cannot delegate this task to collaborators or renounce it into the hands of some powerful administration or organism.

Equally true for charity is what is already explicit for the preaching of the Word - the martyria - and celebration of the sacraments - the leitourgia: in the diocese, the final responsibility for the diakonia lies with the Bishop. It is most unfortunate that Canon Law does not expressly mention this duty of the Pastors, an omission that Pope Benedict points to in his Encyclical (no. 32). The time is ripe to fill this gap.

On this last point about the responsibility of Bishops for the ministry of charity in their dioceses, see also my recent posts about diocesan children's societies. I have been tending to emphasise the responsibility of lay Catholics for the activity of these - and other - Catholic associations, on the grounds that they lie in the field of the rightful autonomy of the laity in tasks relating to the secular world. I think this is certainly part of the picture. See, for example, my remarks at the end of an earlier post about the Synod. I shall have to post at some point on the relationship between the Episcopal and the lay responsibility for the ministry of charity in a diocese. Unless, of course, someone beats me to it ...

PS: Catholic Analysis has an observation and link about the Bible needing to become part of life, the need for building a bridge between erudite scholarship and the ordinary life of the Christian faithful. For the Year of St Paul, I have been making my weekly allocutio for the Legion of Mary praesidium in the parish a catechesis on the second reading of the Sunday Mass. It is quite a challenge trying to be true to the findings of scholarship and at the same time relevant to ordinary Christian lives.

Thursday 9 October 2008

More from the Synod

The following texts of interventions are taken from ZENIT's website. As I understand it, the short interventions of Synod participants are being published day by day as occurred during the last meeting of the Synod of Bishops. The emphases are mine.

-- H.E. Most. Rev. Mark Benedict COLERIDGE, Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn

The Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of preaching which involved a shift from the sermon understood primarily as an exposition of Catholic doctrine, devotion and discipline to the homily understood primarily as an exposition and application of Scripture. Such a shift has been accomplished only in part. One reason for this is that preaching too often takes the kerygma for granted, and this at a moment in Western cultures when the kerygma cannot be taken for granted. If it is, there is the risk of a moralistic reduction of preaching which may evoke interest or admiration but not the faith that saves. Preaching will not be an experience of Christ's power.

A new evangelization requires a new formulation and proclamation of the kerygma in the interests of a more powerful missionary preaching. To promote such a preaching a General Homiletic Directory could be prepared along the lines of the General Catechetical Directory and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.Such a Directory would draw upon the experience of the universal Church in providing a framework without stifling the genius of particular Churches or individuaI preachers. It would help to ensure a more solid and systematic preparation for preachers in seminaries and houses of formation, and this at a time when all recognise how vital preaching is, since the one point of contact with the Word of God for most Catholic people is the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist with its homily.

Though I would perhaps not use the language of "kerygma", I can very clearly recognise here a concern that Catholics today do not have a sense of that central core of Christian belief that inspires conversion towards Christ. Preaching can be evangelising, in the sense of primary proclamation, to meet this need. An element of this proclamation is Scriptural, though it does of course integrate with the teaching of the life and tradition of the Church. And this is profoundly application of the Scriptures to the living of the Christian life by the faithful, application to every day life. The suggestion of a General Homiletic Directory is an interesting one in this context, though it will be interesting to see whether, if it is taken up, it is restricted to just discussing the homily at Sunday Mass.

-- H.E. Most. Rev. Gerald Frederick KICANAS, Bishop of Tucson, Assistant
President of Episcopal Conference (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)

The Eucharistic assembly is where the Church is built up.The Word preached in that assembly comforts, heals, brings hope, inspires, instills joy, delights, confronts, teaches, and challenges.The preached Word reveals and affirms the very best of human ideals and longings placed by God in the human heart. The preached Word, mediated by the Spirit, inspires us to live, move, and have our very being in Christ. Through grace, it changes lives.Unfortunately, preaching in our day can lose its savor, become formulaic and uninspired leaving the hearer empty.Bishops, priests, and deacons bear responsibility for preaching at Mass. How can we enhance the preaching of the Word? Well, what if? What if, after this Year of St. Paul, the Church Universal focused a year on preaching in the Eucharistic assembly? What if, in that year of preaching, priests and deacons together with their bishop studied what matters in order to preach better? What if, in that year of preaching, priests and deacons with their bishop met with the laity to listen to their struggles? They could discuss how preaching might inspire the laity to be a leaven for the world, bringing the Gospel values to the questions of the times. What if, in that year of preaching, there would be a thorough exploration of the catechetical potential of the Sunday homily?If all these "what ifs" were realized then the new springtime for Christianity about which the Holy Father speaks could burst forth and bloom throughout the Church. renewing the Church, strengthening evangelization, intensifying catechesis, and enhancing discipleship.

I like the idea of a Year of Preaching. It would be very interesting to see the clergy having to respond to the greater accountability for their preaching that would exist during that year!

A context for this in England is provided by Bishop O'Donoghue's letter to the trustees of his diocesan Catholic Children's Society, and events at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth. These are both Catholic organisations; but there is a real question about why they have trustees, employees etc who lack the commitment to Catholic belief that would arise from a firm conviction of faith. I am less inclined to lay blame at the door of the relevant bishops in these situations, though in one case he may have some responsibility arising from his powers, and more to highlight the responsibilities of lay Catholics. These are both organisations which would rightly be led by lay people. Their current situations represent a failure of lay mission in the Church. Can that failure be traced back to a failure in preaching of the faith?

Tuesday 7 October 2008

The Synod of Bishops

I have not been following the events of the Synod of Bishops on Sacred Scripture, currently under way in Rome. A couple of points, though.

One of the auditors (ie observer/advisor) of the Synod is Maria Voce, the newly elected President of Focolare. Another is Michelle Moran, from the International Committee of Catholic Charismatic Renewal (I think I have that title right!). Some commentators would welcome their presence at the Synod as two of the women present - more women being present at this Synod of Bishops than at any previous Synod. The significance of their presence, though, is that they are representatives of movements in the Church which have a particular dedication to the pastoral use of Scripture. Focolare's idea of using a passage or phrase of Scripture as a "Word of Life" that members and friends try to live out in their daily lives, and then meet together so that they can share how they have succeeded or failed in this, is an example of a very immediate pastoral approach to Scripture.

I have noticed ZENIT reporting that Cardinal Marc Ouellet has suggested that Pope Benedict write an encyclical letter on the interpretation of Scripture. If Jesus of Nazareth gives an indication of how this might look in print, it would be an interesting venture!

Catholic Analysis gives a much fuller account of the first congregation of the Synod, including a long extract from Cardinal Ouellet's address. The following particularly struck me - surprise, surprise, Cardinal Ouellet is very much involved with the journal Communio to which Hans Urs von Balthasar's idea of "Marian profile" in the Church is familiar territory.

"'Convocatio, communio, missio'. Around these three keywords that translate the triple dimension (dynamic, personal and dialogic) of Christian Revelation, we will show the thematic structure of the 'Instrumentum laboris'. The Word of God convokes, it activates communion with God's plan through obedience to faith and sends the chosen people towards nations. This Word of Covenant culminates in Mary, who embraces the Word made flesh in faith, the Desired One of the nations. .....

In placing the ecclesial functions of Scriptures, Tradition and Magisterium within a Marian ecclesiology, we invite a change of the paradigm where the emphasis passes from the noetic [intellectual] dimension to the personal dimension of Revelation. The archetypical figure of Mary allows emphasising the dynamic dimension of the Word and the personal nature of faith as a gift of oneself, all while inviting the Church to live under the Word and open to all actions by the Holy Spirit".

Blog by the Sea has coverage with lots of links here.

Sunday 5 October 2008

Services of the Word with distribution of Holy Communion

I was led during this morning's blogging "fix" to this post about what here in England we call "Services of the Word with distribution of Holy Communion".

In my own parish, we have one of these services during the week on the parish priest's day off, and most week days when he is away from the parish. The format is almost identical to the Mass, but without the Eucharistic Prayer - so I am sure that most parishioners who attend have a sense of it being "Mass". I concur entirely with the description of the confusions that can occur as a result.

The articulation of concerns expressed in this post is excellent and measured, and I concur entirely with the use of a celebration of the Divine Office as an alternative to what is practically a "dry Mass". This could take place, of course, as part of a time of Eucharistic Adoration, particularly if the celebration takes place on a Sunday.

An interesting series of posts at Diakonia

Diakonia is on my blog roll, and I visited today to find a very interesting series of posts - ranging from American politics to watching the children play football (American) for their school to a very moving post about the sale of their parent's house.

The physicist in me, though, was totally taken by this photo from a post about the beauty of the area where Diakonia lives. Have I finally found the bridge that, for engineering beauty, matches the Millenium Bridge in London? It even looks thin and light enough to wobble ....

New Labour: Anti-Catholic

I have begun exploring around this post by Fr Ray, but haven't had time yet to develop a complete analysis of my own. So, go to Fr Ray, and follow the links from his post to do your own exploration. Amongst the posts on Red Maria's site, there is a very interesting account of Ruth Kelly, - "Dorothy Day with a dash of Joan of Arc"(not the title of the post, but a quote from the body of the article) - which gives a rather different perspective on her than a post by Auntie Joanna. [How is that for political balance?] I think I would like to read rather more about Ruth Kelly.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

A little while since I did a physics post, so here is one. Travelling to and from Leeds by train gave me the chance to do some reading. The month's edition of Physics World went with me for that purpose. It came along with an issue of Interactions which fulfils the role of a kind of newspaper for the Institute of Physics, highlighting its own work, where the magazine itself addresses news and ideas from across the whole world of physics itself.

It contains a full page profile of Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is the president of the Institute of Physics for the coming two years. She is the first female president of the Institute. Her career in physics had an unusual start in that her "big discovery" did not come after years of research and as part of a well developed research career. It came during her first venture into research, her PhD work. She was part of the team that discovered pulsars (a type of astronomical object whose emission of radiation varies in a regular cycle - they pulse), and this put her into the public eye. Her supervisor won a Nobel prize for this.

Jocelyn's career was not routine after that. She was married, and moved to follow her husband's job. So getting post-doctoral positions depended on (her own phrase) writing begging letters to universities. With her fame as a discoverer of pulsars, though, this meant "they were at least likely to read it and not bin it instantly, so I wouldn't be here if that hadn't happened to me..".

Asked if her Quaker beliefs have affected her management style (she is an active member of the Religious Society of Friends) she agrees: "One of the Quaker ethics is that there is 'that of God in everyone', which to me means that within everyone there is something really good and positive, and my management style fits with that. I have a very collegiate style, trying to draw out from each member of the team what they can best contribute.

"The Quaker ethic also fits very well with being a research scientist, because in Quakerism there's no dogma or creed but you are meant to sit light to your beliefs and revise them if need be. And when you're being a research scientist you're working with a model or hypothesis that you're meant to sit light to and revise if need be. That's the British style of Quakerism and research science sits very comfortably with that."

I found this interesting as representing a dialogue, lived out in practical life, between a scientist's religious belief and their scientific work. There is much in it that a Catholic scientist could share, with the difference that the Catholic would have an underlying dogmatic/creedal foundation that the Quaker would not have. Seeing that there is something "of God" in everyone would be recognised by a Catholic as growing out of a belief in God as the creator of each individual person in the image and likeness of God, which might be injured by sin, but is not completely destroyed by sin. And it is interesting to see that then developed into the adoption of a management style.

Similarly, the idea of being "light to" your particular scientific theory (model or hypothesis) as you set out on research would be seen as an openness to the ever emerging possibilities of the creative wisdom of God in creation, a recognition and faith in the ultimately rational nature of creation and of our ability to discover that rationality. Indeed, I have posted in the past on St Robert Bellarmine's account of precisely this sort of outlook, in the context of the Copernican revolution in astronomy and the Galileo affair. Robert Bellarmine's argument that science still had not at that time produced the definitive evidence to support a change of perspective on a particular Biblical text explicitly included a recognition that, when such evidence was forthcoming, a "re-think" of both the scientific model/hypothesis and of the understanding of the Biblical text would be in order. I think it is fair to say that he would have us also sit "light to" specific interpretations of Biblical texts that touch on matters of science in exactly the way that we do for the science itself.

The non-dogmatic Quaker approach does contain a couple of hidden hazards, in my humble opinion. There must be a certain, loosely defined as it may be, range of underpinning belief - eg in the existence of God - which is not averted to. And the non-dogmatic approach can be open to a practical agnosticism or indifference to truth. But, that having been said, there is certainly ground to be shared in dialogue, as exemplified by Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

On the current controversies over religion and science, [Jocelyn Bell Burnell] observes wryly:"I think there's a lot of dogmatism around in the debate, which is probably why it gets so heated".

First Friday becomes Second Friday

I was asked to move our normal time of Eucharistic Adoration from the first Friday to the second Friday this month. Poster below.

I am going to use meditations from St Paul, to accompany praying one each of the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. I think I will choose just two or three of the mysteries to use with the children's adoration. Time also for silent prayer between the mysteries.

Third joyful mystery: the birth of Our Lord

Galatians 4:4-7

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

Fifth luminous mystery: the Institution of the Eucharist

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Fifth sorrowful mystery: the crucifixion and death of our Lord

Colossians 1:15-22

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.

Fifth glorious mystery: the ascension of Christ into heaven

Romans 8:28-30

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Blogging was interrupted because ...

..I was in Leeds on Friday and Saturday, taking part in a conference of my trade unions Branch Secretaries. The union organises three of these across the academic year, to keep us up to date on things. The October one is a two day residential, which gives more opportunity for "networking" - or, in plain terms, finding out what is really going on behind the scenes. I missed last years October meeting - preferring instead to stick with Eucharistic Adoration in the parish.

On the second day I was told the story of the group of "first attenders", the new branch secretaries starting in the role this year, who were being wound up to believe that the youngest of them would have to do a speech to the conference at the end of the Saturday proceedings. Apparently they pointed out that there was someone younger than themselves who should really be asked to do it .... identifying that person as me.

I think I'll go to this conference again ...

Wednesday 1 October 2008

A "journey of sexual discovery" and shame

I have read the Telegraph today instead of the Times, and two items caught my attention.

Under the headline "Channel 4 teen sex series in morning", the newspaper reports on a sex education series to be broadcast by Channel 4 in November. Searching the schedules of Channel 4 Learning, this is going to be a series of short 5-10 minute programmes intended for use in PSHE teaching programmes in schools. The show is entitled KNTV Sex, and I believe it has/is being produced for Channel 4 Learning by a company called Tern TV.

Two things struck me about the Telegraph report and the (limited) information I could see about the programmes in a web search. One is the un-real nature of the presentation -cartoon figures Kierky and Nietsche (drawn from an earlier Tern TV series on philosophy - get it?) set in a fictional "last remaining communist state" of Slabovia, comedy footage from television shows. It looks as if human sexuality will be treated as a bit of a joke, communicating a certain gap between the messages the programme series is trying to get over and consequences in the real lives of young people.

The second is the description of the series as a "journey of sexual discovery" (quotation marks in the Telegraph report, so, presuming the professionalism of the journalist concerned, taken verbatim from Channel 4 or Tern TV's own blurb/news release - though I couldn't find anything directly to check this out), and the statement that the series will discuss different ways of having sex, bisexuality and "coming out". In other words, an intention, not just to communicate information and then leave young people to make up their own minds, but to develop and form a particular immoral view of sexual activity. I use the word "immoral" advisedly - the reporting of the programme gives no indication that there is any right or wrong at stake ... And given the participation of THT and SEF in preparing the materials, we aren't surprised.

In the comment section of the paper, Liz Hunt has a short piece entitled "Have we no shame?" The photo accompanying the piece illustrates precisely what shame (in the good sense) is not: it is not humiliation, and definitely not public humiliation. Liz Hunt's context is not that of human sexuality, but rather of situations where celebrities have found themselves undertaking community service orders for offences. One of the chapters of Pope John Paul II's book Love and Responsibility that I have always found very striking is that entitled "The Metaphysics of Shame". There is a perfectly correct and healthy way in which we should be ashamed - as a judgement of conscience when we do something wrong - and have a preference that what we have done does not become public knowledge. The seal of the confessional has always occured to me as a way of respecting this legitimate character of shame after sin. On the other hand, shame does have a public character in the sense that what is seen by society as shameful and to be frowned upon acts as an incentive towards moral behaviour, towards behaviour that will not lead to an experience of shame. [Aside: imagine how smokers feel these days!]

Now, have Channel 4 and Tern TV and their collaborators lost their sense of shame?