Thursday 31 December 2009

Alma Mater: "the anti-Roman complex"?

Some year ago now the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar referred to an "anti-Roman atttide" within the Catholic Church. The context was theological, and von Balthasar was referring to a trend in Catholic theology that took every opportunity to attack the office of the Successor of Peter - it forms an "anti-Petrine attitude". His analysis is wide ranging and detailed - The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church.

The recent CD Alma Mater was not well recieved by some in the Catholic blogosphere (here and here - as a matter of principle, I will not link to the original source to which these bloggers refer), but, having listened to it, I wonder why. Alma Mater can be found on Spotify - register for free if you need to, download the software, and enter "Alma Mater" in the search box. There are aspects of the CD that one might not like - if you do not have an understanding of Italian, French, Portuguese and German the words of the Holy Father are somewhat lost, as reading the translations in the CD insert is not the same as being able to follow the original words in context within the playing of the music (and some of the English translations and Italian transcriptions are incomplete in any case - sorry, I haven't got the language skills to be able to check the Portuguese and German!). One's taste in music might also put one off one or other of the individual tracks - I suspect that the third track "Advocata Nostra", whose north African influence reminded me of music heard during a recent visit to Sicily, is one to love or hate. I liked it, and found it the most intriguing track on the CD.

I found it a very interesting CD altogether. I thought the integration of themes from the words of Pope Benedict, sections of the Litany of Our Lady and the traditional Marian anthems with orchestral music and one or two other Marian compositions worked well. The choice of themes provides, in my view, a very contemporary Marian catechesis: Holy Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Our Advocate, You are Blessed, Cause of our Joy, Help of Christians, Queen of Heaven and Our Teacher. An example from the words of Pope Benedict, included in the track Help of Christians (in part my own translation from the CD, as the Italian text in the CD insert is incomplete/inaccurate):
When we recite the Rosary we relive the important and significant moments in the history of salvation; we retrace the different stages in the mission of Christ... With Mary we turn our hearts to the mystery of Jesus. We put Christ at the centre of our lives, of our time, of our cities, by contemplating and meditation upon His mysteries of joy, of light, of sorrow and of glory. .. Help us, Mary, to receive in ourselves the grace that these mysteries exude, so that through us it may spread through society by way of our daily relationships, and purify society from so many negative forces that it may learn of the newness of God.
The last track ends with the prayer "Oremus pro pontifice nostro .." (Let us pray for our Pope ..)  and a resounding orchestral setting of the Christus Vincit. What more could a Catholic want?

The infidelities in the texts in the CD insert are unhelpful; but leaving those aside, I wonder whether Alma Mater has not been the target, in the cultural realm, of a certain "anti-Roman attitude"?

Animals close motorway for hours

The M11, where this accident occurred, is just a few miles from me. The radio was reporting the closure of the motorway in its travel news bulletins yesterday, but there was nothing on the main news bulletins (which one might expect from a major road accident). Both carriageways of the motorway were reported as being closed for several hours.

The explanation is here and, with video, here.

Men are useless

Hero (ie Zero after Francis' comment on this post) asked me yesterday what I had been doing on New Year's Day last year (or, as I post, still this year, but I am sure you know what I mean).

I think I had three tries.


See here.

Then see the title of this post.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

FAITH, the unity of creation, and the Saviour/Redeemer

On 10th December, Rita posted about the idea that Christ would have become flesh even if there had been no original sin, in a post entitled Homo Factus Est. I promised at the time that I would engage with this post, and so here goes.

Firstly, I was reminded of my promise by the Liturgy of the Christmas Day Mass, on which I posted here. The texts of the Mass for during the day speak of Christ's birth as the coming of God who existed "from the beginning", before time began we might say; and who now comes to fulfil the hopes of all peoples and of all creation: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God; sing joyfully to God all the earth. The prologue to St John's Gospel recognises the incursion of sin ("the light shining in the darkness", the One whose own did not know him), but the essential vision is one of Christ as the fulfilment of creation.

1. The "FAITH line" is usually presented in a way that depends heavily on accepting an idea of biological evolution, and it can appear that the approach taken by FAITH is essentially dependent on this. This makes it vulnerable to criticism by an evangelical/fideistic rejection of the science of evolution, a rejection which I do not think holds any water either from the point of view of reason used in the realm of science or from the point of view of reason used in the realm of philosophy/theology. Whilst I do not think this critique of the FAITH line is justified, I do think that the underlying principle of an organised, unified development in the order of creation can be maintained without a dependent reliance on a particular understanding of biological evolution. The principle is very readily illustrated from evolutionary theory, but it can be equally illustrated from ideas of cosmology or the fine balances of sub-nuclear physics. [As I never tire of saying to my pupils, "physics IS the best subject in the world"!]

2. An aspect of Stanley Jaki's thought that has attracted me is that, between the realm of science and the realm of theology, there is an intermediate role to be played by metaphysics. In other words, one can expect developments in the sciences to shed light on how we understand the being of the universe - and Jaki presents real existence (idea of being), coherent rationality (truth), a consistent whole (unity) and contingent existence (purposed, good) as necessary elements of a metaphysics that makes science a possible enterprise for the human community. [cf chapter 2 of his Cosmos and Creator, especially the summary at the end of the chapter]. In this framework, the contribution made by the FAITH line can be seen as one that sheds a light on the unity and purpose of the created order as metaphysical principles, rather than as tied inextricably to one understanding of evolutionary theory - the "unity law of control and direction" is not just a law that applies to biological evolution.

3. I think it is worth developing a little the idea of unity in the order of creation. If we are going to speak about the universe as one coherent whole, then we can only speak about that one coherent whole that we encounter in our lives. In the context of the debate about whether or not Christ would have come as man if there had not been original sin, it is difficult for us to articulate the debate without using words like "if" or "before" in reference to the event of sin. But when the unity of the created universe is taken seriously, we have to try to remove the "if" and the "before" and "after" from our reflection, and try to reflect upon what "is" and is "given to us" in its being. The phenomenon that we encounter is a world which contains sin, and in which Christ comes to us therefore as both a redeemer (to overcome sin) and as a saviour (to fulfil the destiny of men towards God, and so the destiny of the whole of creation). We can therefore expect both aspects to be present in the mystery of the Incarnation and of Christ's work on earth. It is this, I think, that is developed in Chapter 16 of Fr Holloway's Catholicism: A New Synthesis, a chapter entitled "Saviour and Redeemer". We should not be surprised that the Scriptures, the Church's Liturgy, her formally defined teaching and the tradition of her theological and spiritual writing has moments when the one aspect rather than the other is to the fore; but both aspects are there.

4. How we understand death, seen as a consequence of sin, needs also to be read in this same context of a unity of creation. Without death, our bodies would never grow old or infirm, and yet this appears to us as being a part of the natural course of things. Whenever I talk to anyone who is seriously ill or very elderly, I try to use the language of "coming to the end of their lives" as well as that of "dying", because I think it indicates something of the reality of what happens when we die. We should perhaps try to perceive this in a framework of the one-ness of the created order, where the "if" of the non-occurrence of sin does not have a meaning.

5. Rita's hesitation about the idea that Christians should reach out to scientists particularly with the aspect of Christ as saviour is very thought provoking. In the light of what I have been saying about the unity of the universe, then authentic evangelisation requires that we reach out with Christ under both aspects, those of saviour and of redeemer; but there is no reason why one aspect should not be to the fore rather than the other. There is another problem to be faced here. It can be summarised by the term "scientism", and it is that even where scientists recognise a purpose or direction in the universe (various forms of the anthropic principle, evolution) there remains the wish on their part to make these principles self-explaining of the universe rather than indicative of a transcending explanation. One root of this wish is a lack of philosophical formation, particularly with regard to metaphysics, the philosophy of being. But it presents Christians with the temptation to see in some of these ideas a proximity to Christian beliefs that the scientist proponents would explicitly reject and consider alien to a genuine understanding of the ideas themselves. Which is to suggest that, in reaching out to scientists, the Christian evangelist should not leave aside the intermediate part to be played by metaphysics.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Thailand deports Hmong refugees

The Times is today reporting the forced repatriation by the Thai army of Hmong refugees from a camp near their border with Laos. The Hmong people fought on the side of the Americans during the Vietnam war. After the fall of Vietnam, some 100 000 Hmong settled in the United States. The role that the ethnic Hmong played in the war against communism is not very well known. [Some of the comments to the Times on-line report leave something to be desired in terms of their attitude to refugees.]

I first came across the story of the Hmong through Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino.

St Thomas Becket: patron of the pastoral clergy of England and Wales

In the ordinary form of the Roman Liturgy, the days following Christmas Day see the celebration of the Feasts of St Stephen, Saint John (or the Holy Family - I had reason to celebrate St John, as I went to a Mass celebrated by the Community of St John for their patronal feast on Sunday) and the Holy Innocents. The following days are those of the Octave of Christmas.

Except here in England and Wales where the commemoration of St Thomas Becket in the universal calendar has the rank of a Feast. Since St Thomas Becket is the patron saint of the pastoral clergy in England and Wales, it seems a very appropriate day, during the Year for Priests, to pray particularly for parish priests.

It is with the benefit of hindsight, as this only occurred to me this morning, but perhaps you could pray a Holy Hour for your parish priests at some point today? Before the Blessed Sacrament, if possible, or at home if that isn't possible?

Go here, and follow the links therein (the Catholic Encyclopaedia article is perhaps the easiest read), to learn something of the story of St Thomas Becket.

UPDATE: Stella Maris indicates (Becket, Peter and the Church) an aspect of St Thomas life - his teaching with regard to the office of Peter in the universal Church. This is, I suspect, the underlying principle behind St Thomas resistance to the incursions of Henry II with regard to the rights of the Church in England, that is not necessarily apparent in the purely historical narrative. It is also worthwhile to follow the link from the first comment at that post to read an Anglo-Catholic commentary on the feast day: St Thomas Becket: the struggle between Church and State.

[Reading about the conflict between the King, Henry II, and Archbishop Becket over the rights of the Church in relation to the secular power raises an interesting question for today. In so far as I have understood the story, the key point was the Council of Clarendon in 1164 and the provisions insisted on then by the King. We live now in a time when the separation of the state power from religious authority is taken for granted, what Pope Benedict would see as an "appropriate secularity"; but, in the times of St Thomas, the power of state and the exercise of ecclesial jurisdiction overlapped. As a deacon, for example, St Thomas was chancellor, one of the highest positions of state. One provision of the Council limited excommunications by a need for royal permission in certain cases; another insisted that clerics convicted and sentenced in ecclesiastical courts should also be subject to possible punishment by state authorities (remembering that, in those times, a penalty imposed by an ecclesiastical court could be a material penalty and not just a spiritual one; the ecclesiastical penalty overlapped to become one that we today could consider as a state punishment). In the context of contemporary child abuse scandals, particularly in Ireland, it is interesting to see that the principle that offences committed by ecclesiastics should be the subject of the due processes of state law is now central to the Catholic Church's response to those scandals. Today, though, the ecclesial/legal significance of that principle, which appears as being strongly opposed by St Thomas, is rather the opposite than it would have been in 1164. Nowadays ecclesiastical penalty - if it had been applied in the cases of child abuse, which it appears not to have been - would lack the material penalty that it would have included in 1164. That ecclesiastics are also subject to the processes of state law restores that material penalty.]

Sunday 27 December 2009

Redefining the Family

I wasn't there, but I was told about a priest who today tried to be so inclusive in his definition of what constitutes a family that even single people, living on their own without any children, counted as families. While single people can form part of the network of an "extended family", to consider them in themselves, as a family unit is a nonsense. It is first of all a complete contradiction of the ordinary meaning of the word "family"; and, in the second place, a single person who has given any thought to their vocation in the Church, will not see themselves in any way as having the same vocation/office in the Church as someone who is married. I, for one, have no difficulty as being "left out" from family definitions; I consider myself to have a completely different mission in the Church and in the world, and almost resent the idea that that mission will in some way be "forced" into being that of a family.

The first problem with the approach of this priest (and I suspect that it is not unique to him) is that it confuses totally what I would term the "catechetical moment" and the "pastoral moment" with regard to family life in a parish. Today's Feast of the Holy Family clearly provides an opportunity for a "catechetical moment" - an opportunity for a systematic presentation of Catholic teaching about marriage and the family life that follows on from marriage (but see below). This moment calls for clear and unambivalent teaching, presented gently but nevertheless clearly. Family should be defined in relation to marriage, and the openness to life that is part of the married vocation. Within a wider and more every day usage of the word "family" it is possible to acknowledge the situation of those who have children without being married, or who have children from earlier, broken relationships. But, within the "catechetical moment", the relative imperfection of these situations compared to a married family life can be spoken about without any attitude of condemnation. The "pastoral moment" belongs at another time, in responding to the needs of individual parishioners and their situations.

The second problem is one of public debate and policy making. The approach of including every type of household within the definition of "family" undermines any possibility of a consistent response from the Church to those who would re-define the family to include same-sex and co-habiting couples, without any reference to marriage as a constituting element of the family.

Somewhat as an afterthought, and observations to the contrary welcome in the comments box: but is the Feast of the Holy Family a feast that really provides opportunity for a full catechesis on marriage and family life? Seeing the Holy Family as a kind of "model" of what families today can be like has some merit; but, from a theological point of view, it does not seem catechetically strong to me, not perhaps reaching beyond the pious (not that that is in itself bad). In the homily I heard at Mass today, it was suggested that this "first" Holy Family should be seen in the context of a "second" Holy Family - that of Jesus on the Cross, Mary and St John at the foot of the Cross.  The richly ecclesial interpretation of the mutual entrusting of Mary and John by Jesus at this moment gives access to an understanding of the Holy Family in the framework of the ecclesial understanding normally associated with the understanding of the sacramental nature of marriage.

[For an account of the pastoral possibilites of this feast, see Holy Family, the Octave of Christmas, at the Communio blog.]

Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve homily

Other bloggers, with a primarily Liturgical intent in doing so, have highlighted a passage from this homily in which Pope Benedict urges his listeners to put the things of God first in their lives, quoting from the Rule of St Benedict:
The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place -- however important they may be -- so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.
However, as usual with Pope Benedict XVI, it is worth reading the whole homily. The full text can be found here at ZENIT. What the Holy Father does in his homily is take the shepherds of the Christmas story as an example of how we should respond to the invitation that God puts forward to us, not only in the mystery of the Incarnation, but also in the signs of his presence in our lives. It is the urgency and promptness of their response to the invitation to go to Bethlehem that Pope Benedict proposes as an example for us to follow. Whilst the passage in which he refers to the Liturgy and our Christian response in charity to our neighbour (cf the two part treatment of Deus Caritas Est - first God's love for us and our call to love God, and then, inseperable from it, our call to love of our neighbour) is most immediately addressed to those who might be called "practising Christians", other passages are addressed to those who might be non-Christian or lukewarm in their Christian practise.

In the second paragraph there is a call to adherence to the truth, another typical Benedictine them:
The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch -- they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another.
Pope Benedict goes on to talk about man's receptivity to God:
Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed -- our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly.
The section of the homily that caught my eye, however, was one in which Pope Benedict suggests that the shepherds "went over" to see the Christ child at Bethlehem rather as if they were going to visit a neighbour (my italics added, because I was very attracted by this sentence - not that I think it applies to me!).
Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us.
And, to try to summarise, using two passages, one from near the beginning and one from near the end of Pope Benedict's homily:

For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received.....

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made -- because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him -- this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like.

Christmas Mass

On Christmas morning, I went to Westminster Cathedral for the 10.30 am Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nichols. When Mass is celebrated "saying the black, doing the red", with an ordinary obedience to the rubrics, the experience of the lay faithful is quite different. The Liturgical texts can speak to you, of themselves, and with a quite unexpected force.  Familiar texts can gain a life they otherwise would not have.

The readings were proclaimed from the pulpit, part way down the nave, and not from the sanctuary. I had two thoughts on this. The first was that the pulpit was a much more worthy place from which to read the Scriptures than the "music-stand" style stand at the front edge of the sanctuary that is most often used. The second was that it created the opportunity to listen to the Scripture without seeing the person reading. The focus is then much more on the Word being proclaimed than on the person reading. [The essence of this can be achieved when readings are proclaimed from the sanctuary by keeping one's focus on the altar or the crucifix - the "internal east", in the language of Pope Benedict.] It also creates the opportunity for a procession with the book of the Gospels from the high altar, across the sanctuary and into the nave among the people, and on to the pulpit, before the reading of the Gospel. Which enhances the dignity with which we regard the Scriptures, and at the same time places that enhancement within the context of the Liturgy.

Texts like the Gradual text and the Allelulia, sung by the choir, gained a wonderful richness on either side of the reading from Hebrews, a real sense of the coming of Christ being announced to the whole world:
All the ends the earth have seen the salvation of our God; sing joyfully to God all the earth.

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;  but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.

For to what angel did God ever say, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"? And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

A hallowed day has dawned upon us. Come, you nations, worship the Lord, for today a great light has shone down upon the earth.
The anticipation as we turned to face the pulpit for the reading of the Gospel was almost palpable, and powerfully moving (to me, anyway):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ....

Saturday 26 December 2009

Latest country to join the Euro ....

I only realised today, through a visit to nephews and nieces, that a new nation has joined the Euro.

Toytown has also caught up with chip and pin!

I do realise that this will be old news to those with their own young children, but those of us who are single do not normally move in the world of the Early Learning Centre.
[For the grown ups reading this post: sorry, today is, in the jargon of the media, a slow news day.]

Thursday 24 December 2009

Born in a bus stop

Fr Stephen Wang, at Bridges and Tangents,  has posted on a quite striking image of the nativity. Go here, and have a look.

Pope Benedict XVI: On the Feast of Christ's birth

Pope Benedict devoted his address at the General Audience this week to a reflection "on the Feast of Christ's birth". The full text can be found here, at the ZENIT website. It is classic Pope Benedict, combining an analysis that is academic in nature with a profoundly pastoral presentation. You do need to read the whole to fully appreciate it, but here are four extracts.

After observing that the first feast to be celebrated in the Christian Church was that of Easter, Pope Benedict then goes on to describe the origins of the celebration of Christmas:
The first one to clearly affirm that Jesus was born on Dec. 25 was Hippolytus of Rome in his commentary on the Book of the prophet Daniel, written around 204. One exegete observes, moreover, that on this day was celebrated the Dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C.. The concurrence of dates would come to mean that with Jesus, appearing as light of God in the night, advent of God to this earth, the consecration of the temple is truly fulfilled.
In the context of inter-religious dialogue, this is to suggest that the Christian feast of Christmas is the fulfilment of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. It could also be read in a Marian context - the Virgin Mary being seen as the Temple of the Lord, consecrated to bring Him to birth.
Within Christianity, the feast of Christmas took on a definite form in the fourth century, when it took the place of the Roman feast of "sol invictus," the invincible sun. Thus was shown that the birth of Christ is the victory of true light over the darkness of evil and sin. Yet, the unique and intense spiritual atmosphere that surrounds Christmas developed in the Middle Ages, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, who was profoundly in love with Jesus as man, with God-with-us.
Pope Benedict then continues with an account of how St Francis began the custom of the nativity scene, quoting from St Francis' biographer Thomas of Celano and then commenting:
These lines describe very well how Francis' living faith in and love for the humanity of Christ have been transmitted to the Christian feast of Christmas: the discovery that God reveals himself in the tiny fingers of the Child Jesus. Thanks to St. Francis, the Christian people have been able to perceive that at Christmas, God truly has become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier or distance can separate us. In this Child, God has come so near to each one of us, so close, that we can address him with confidence and maintain with him a trusting relationship of deep affection, as we do with a newborn.

Again, Pope Benedict's words have a significance in the context of inter-religious dialogue. For a Christian, God is someone who has come close to us and who invites us to closeness, intimacy with him. For a Jewish person, this closeness is a possibility expressed in God's election of his people, but it is a possibility that is still looking for fulfilment - the Messiah is still awaited. For a person who is a Muslim, this manifestation of God in human existence is unimaginable.

In this Child, in fact, God-Love is manifested: God comes without weapons, without strength, because he does not aim to conquer, we could say, from without, but rather wants to be welcomed by man in liberty. God becomes a defenseless Child to conquer man's pride, violence and desire to possess. In Jesus, God took up this poor and defenseless condition to conquer with love and lead us to our true identity. We should not forget that the greatest title of Jesus Christ is precisely that of "Son," Son of God. Divine dignity is indicated with a term that makes reference to the humble condition of the manger in Bethlehem, though corresponding uniquely to his divinity, which is the divinity of the "Son."
In the developed nations of Europe and North America, the crib or nativity scene has become profoundly symbolic. Civil authorities are now reluctant to arrange nativity displays; some schools have abandoned their nativity plays. The reasons given for this are that such displays might give offence to those who follow religions other than Christianity; the reality seems to me to be pressure from those of no religious belief to exclude expressions of religious belief from the public arena.

So let us display our nativity scenes with confidence, and for the evangelisation of our society.

A CASE to be answered?

It is being reported  that the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation  (CASE) is to be closed. [Hmmm... should I have put that link in, or will it disappear soon?]

Through my work at Maryale Institute, I have met Clare Ford, one of the CASE team members; and, in a rather earlier existence, I had also met Mgr Keith Barltrop. What I know of them, and of their work, I regard highly. Mgr Barltrop was the lead organiser for the recent visit of the relics of St Therese of Lisieux - one of the most powerfully evangelising moments in our country for many a year.

Like others, I believe that CASE was one of the most valuable initiatives to emerge from the Catholic Bishops' Conference in recent years. And the key to its being so valuable was the people and not the structure; and no accident that team members have previous experience in the context of the new movements.

I find it quite incomprehensible that it should be being abandoned. Especially when CYMFed is being created, with rather less of a pedigree in the field of evangelisation, and without articulating in its aims any explicit reference to evangelisation. An agency which works with genuine sense of charism is being ditched; and a structure which does not claim any charism is being established.

I hope that those who have worked in CASE in recent years are able to find ways to continue the contribution that they have been making to evangelisation.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Today's sights

Not Fantastic Mr Fox! I haven't seen this fellow for quite some time, but footsteps in the snow of the last few days have betrayed his presence. Careful look at the house behind - a dog lives there.

And then a spot of sunbathing ...

My nativity set:

The lunch table after the departure of nephews and nieces (but you can't see the floor on this picture!):

Have turkey, will cook:

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Are rock cakes the new child care?

I was rescued from a child care dilemma this morning by Zero, who bravely looked after three nephews for a couple of hours. Being an experienced chef, she realised that the thing to do was organise the troops to do the work. Now, I wonder whether I could exchange rock cakes for some childcare vouchers?




And the finished product (minus one or two already eaten):

PS: Here in the UK, childcare vouchers are a scheme whereby employees sacrifice some of their salary to buy vouchers that can be redeemed against the cost of childcare. It's all part of the government's moves to encourage parents to work.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Miracles and heroic virtues

A series of recent decrees of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints caught media headlines because they included the recognition of the herioc virtues of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II. A report of the approval of the decrees by Pope Benedict XVI can be found here, and the Vatican news service report in Italian here.

But there are some other interesting decrees among the "small print", so to speak. Of interest to Catholics in England is the recognition of the heroic virtues of Sr Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and institute now known as the Congregation of Jesus. Corrections in the comments box if my memory is wrong, but this is, I think, an order whose spiritual roots are alongside those of the Society of Jesus.

Also among the decrees is the recognition of the martyrdom of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko. This absolves Fr Jerzy from the miracle needed for beatification; but, given the dimensions of his murder that might be considered political, it is significant to see that he has been recognised as a martyr. Archbishop Oscar Romero can be thought of as a martyr in very much the same way as Fr Popieluszko, though he acted in the context of a regime that would be considered "on the right" where Fr Popieluszko acted in the context of a regime "of the left".

Another decree recognises a miracle attributed to the intercession of Chiara "Luce" Badano, a young member of the Focolare. This opens the way to her beatification only twenty years after her death.

I would like, however, to reflect on the idea of "heroic virtue". The careful enquiry into the life and work of a candidate for sainthood is what one might call a necessary, but not sufficient, step to canonisation. If this enquiry does not result in a positive outcome, the cause is not pursued further. If it idoes achieve a positive outcome, due study is then made to verify a miracle due to the intercession of the person concerned. All of this is to demonstrate that the person is in heaven, and able to intercede effectively before the Father on our behalf.

I sometimes wonder whether those who are subsequently canonised really felt that they were doing anything heroic, or whether they just felt they were doing simply what would have been expected of anyone in their situation. One thinks in comparison of this interview with Able Seaman Kate Nesbitt, who recently was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. There are people who will almost certainly never be canonised but who nevertheless carry out acts of human charity that are heroic, they themselves though thinking of them as something quite ordinary and what anyone else would do in their situation.

Like the gentleman of about 80 years who, every day almost without exception, and for two or three hours, visits his wife in a nursing home. His wife has been seriously disabled by strokes, and does not communicate.

And children who spend time looking after and being with their parents as they grow older, particularly at times when their parents are ill.

Or those who remain faithful as a family member suffers from addiction.

These are people who are worth blogging about.

[See also Saint News at the Hermeneutic of Continuity.]

Saturday 19 December 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent: homily on the Sacrament of Penance

I had the good fortune this evening to hear a homily devoted to the Sacrament of Penance. This was being delivered quite deliberately in advance of an Advent reconciliation service taking place during the coming week, and to which, during the notices at the end of Mass, we were all encouraged to bring a friend or neighbour. When I say this it doesn't mean that I am particularly good at going to Confession, but I did appreciate a homily that spoke rather beautifully and enthusiastically about the Sacrament.

Father started by suggesting that the entrance antiphon of the Mass - "Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Saviour" - was an image of the Sacraments. Each Sacrament is a presence and action of God, made real through a physical form such as water for baptism and bread/wine for the Eucharist. He went on to suggest that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was a Sacrament of the Virgin Mary, since in approaching the Sacrament we need to make a particular choice to turn away from sin and obey the will of the Lord, to make a choice for lowliness. Mary, in the obedience of the Annunciation, is the model par excellence of this obedient attentiveness to the will of God. The Sacrament is also one which demands that we humble ourselves before God; and, of course, in her Magnificat the Virgin Mary shows herself as the lowly servant who recieves the favour of the Lord. The demand for lowliness that the Sacrament makes of us also indicates that it is a Sacrament of childhood.

A motif to which Father referred, and which perhaps can be used to summarise the Sacrament of Penance, was that of TLC - Tender Loving Care. He first of all described the Virgin Mary using this term. She is the subject of  a particular loving choice on the part of God. And it also applies to the Sacrament of Penance, which is a particular moment in which we recieve the loving choice of God for us.

Friday 18 December 2009

THE most significant Advent antiphon

.... is, according to this post at Communio, which gives the full text in English translation, the Rorate Caeli. The same blog has a post on the "Greater Antiphons", used in the Liturgy of Vespers during these last days of Advent.

You can listen to the Rorate Caeli being sung in Latin here on Youtube; and a "Catholic Minute" catechesis about it here.

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is the title of the third of the Masses for the Advent Season in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. See my earlier posts for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Annunciation of the Lord and for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel.
Father, all powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

By your Holy Spirit
you inspired Elizabeth
to reveal the surpassing honour
you have given to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary is rightly hailed as blessed
because she believed your promise of salvation;
in her act of loving service
she is greeted as mother of the Lord
by the mother of Christ's herald.

We make our own the canticle of joy
on the lips of God's Virgin Mother,
and in her lowliness we too proclaim you greatness
in the never-ending hymn
of the whole company of angels and saints
as they cry out:

Holy, Holy ...
The Opening Prayer of the Mass is:
Lord our God,
Saviour of the human family,
you brought salvation and joy
to the home of Elizabeth
through the visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
the ark of the New Covenant.

We ask that, in obdience
to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
we too may bring Christ to others
and proclaim your greatness
by the praise of our lips
and the holiness of our lives.

If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation

Pope Benedict's message for the World Day of Peace, to be celebrated on 1st January 2010, has been published. The full text can be accessed at ZENIT. The theme chosen for the message is "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation", and Pope Benedict points out the potential for conflict and for the displacement of persons that arises from environmental issues such as degredation of natural environments and difficulties of access to resources. In earlier posts (here and here) I have observed that Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about concern for the environment are placed in the context of the natural world seen as created by God and so manifesting God in the world. This message for the World Day of Peace represents, in my view, one of the most complete articulations of Pope Benedict's teaching on the importance of care for the environment. Though I offer three excerpts below, I do encourage you to read the full text.

" is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development; it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology in this sense is a response to God's command to till and keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God's creative love".
The relationship between human beings and the created environment, and the consequences of the development of technologies for that relationship, is explored in a book by Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como. It is interesting to see Pope Benedict suggesting that technology, which so often appears to represent a "domination" over the natural order, is akin to the task of the craftsman or agriculturalist, where the co-operation between human beings and nature is readily perceived.
The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction. The degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence: consequently, "when ‘human ecology' is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits". Young people cannot be asked to respect the environment if they are not helped, within families and society as a whole, to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others.
In the paragraph that immediately follows this one, Pope Benedict draws its conclusions in relation to respect for human life and for the role of the family. There is an interesting connection being made here between a (fashionable) concern for the environment and an (unfashionable) concern for the upholding of Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and family life.
There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church's magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the "dignity" of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms. The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the "grammar" which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.
In this paragraph, Pope Benedict explicitly presents a Christian view of the position of the human person in relation to the other creatures of nature. Our concern about the environment is at the service of our concern about the human person, both as an individual and as a community (cf the notions of "intergenerational justice" and "intragenerational justice"), and not the other way round. And those Catholics who are engaged in issues of environmental justice should be preaching this strongly and clearly, as the particular contribution to the discussion of these matters that the Catholic Church has to offer to others.
In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church's Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make. They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20).
A final reflection can be made on the way in which Pope Benedict teaches on this subject of the environment, in the context of this message for the World Day for Peace and in other messages and addresses. Those Catholics of a more traditional frame of mind can be tempted to be dismissive of anxiety for and campaigning related to environmental issues. I think Pope Benedict, with his frequent remarks on this subject, is challenging them to take environmental issues seriously as part of their Christian lives. A thread that runs through the more practical aspects of the message is that of the need for change - change in the lives of nations, in the lives of organisations of civil society, in the lives of communities and in the lives of individuals.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Mary and the Annunciation of the Lord

Following on from last Saturday's post that referred to the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, herewith some of the texts of the second of the Masses allocated to the Advent season. The Mass is entitled "Mary and the Annunciation of the Lord".

The Opening Prayer of this Mass is:
O God,
you chose that at the message of an angel
your Word should take flesh
in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Grant that we who believe that she is the Mother of God
may receive the help of her prayers.
I provide below the translation of the Preface - I do not have access to the original Latin, so the precise nuances of what is translated by "humankind" and "human" in the first sentence may (or may not) have been lost in the translation.
He came to save humankind by becoming human himself.
The Virgin Mary, receiving the angel's message in faith,
conceived by the power of the Spirit
and bore your Son in purest love.
In Christ, the eternal truth,
your promise to Israel came true.
In Christ, the hope of all peoples,
our hope was realized beyond all expectation.
As I suggested last week, the rubrical legitimacy of celebrating these Masses in parishes during Advent is a bit of a moot point. However, if your parish is one where Saturday Masses of Our Lady are regularly celebrated, I believe the situation does become analagous to that which would exist at a Marian shrine - there is a reasonable pastoral expectation of celebration of a Mass of Our Lady.

Today, of course, there is also the possibility of celebrating the memorial of Our Lady of Guadaloupe. In the Americas, this will of course take precedence.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Prayers please ...

I have two critical prayer intentions at the moment, so if you can spare some of your prayer time for them, I would be very grateful (and so would the recipients of your prayers).
Lord God,
you have given the Blessed Virgin Mary to your Church as a beacon of unfailing hope.

In your goodness
grant that those who are burdened by life's cares
may find in her consolation and strength
and that those who despair of salvation
may find their hearts warmed and uplifted
as they turn to her in their need.

Monday 7 December 2009

Mary, the most beautiful flower that has sprung up from the word of God

I have just seen this post at Blog-by-the-Sea, and link to it by way of marking the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. A full text of Pope Benedict's Angelus address can be found at ZENIT.

"Jesus the Divine Word; Mary the Most Beautiful Flower Germinated from the Word of God" - such delight in language is vintage Pope Benedict.

Dear friends, the most beautiful flower that has sprung up from the word of God is the Virgin Mary. She is the first fruits of the Church, garden of God on earth. But, while Mary is the Immaculate One -- as we will celebrate her the day after tomorrow -- the Church has constant need of purifying herself, because sin infects all her members. In the Church there is always a struggle taking place between the desert and the garden, between the sin that parches the earth and the grace that waters it so that it produces abundant fruits of holiness. Let us therefore pray to the Mother of the Lord that she will help us, in this Advent season, to "straighten" our ways, letting ourselves be guided by the word of God.

Whilst on the one hand a paragraph with a great felicity of language, we should recognise in it the richly Biblical source of the imagery. The desert and the garden, the earth that is parched compared to the waters that make earth fruitful; both of these pairings as representations of sin and grace.

Sunday 6 December 2009


I do have a personal connection to these two-parishes-becoming-one.  St Edmund of Canterbury parish is where my family lived during the years of my secondary education.

So it is quite pleasing to see the website of these two parishes linking to a number of organisations and apostolates with which I would be in sympathy! The reference to vocations arising from the parishes in the past is quite true. It was only when I moved away from Lancashire that I had to adapt myself to a Catholicism that is culturally Irish rather than English. During my time in Fleetwood I was used to English clergy. Rossall, a suburb of Fleetwood if there can be such a thing, was the home of one Cardinal Allen, founder of seminaries abroad during the time of the reformation in England.

Faith and film (2): The Gospel and the Movies

The website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales are posting a daily .mp3 meditation for Advent. These meditations have been prepared by Fr Peter Malone, a former president of SIGNIS - the World Catholic Association for Communication. Each meditation is linked to a film.

I haven't listened to any of the meditations yet, but thought to link to the relevant web page. This seems to me to be an interesting exercise in bringing religious faith into dialogue with our contemporary culture.

The page with the .mp3 files can be found here; the meditations are posted with the most recent post at the top of the page. Move down the page to find the earlier meditations.

Faith and film (1): The Gardener of God

ZENIT have reported the presentation in Rome of the film The Gardener of God, a film about the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel. An extended trailer for the film can be found on the website of the production company responsible for the film. As a scientist, Gregor Mendel is generally seen as the founder of the science of genetics.

The trailer makes interesting viewing for the messages it communicates about the priesthood, about the relationship between science and Christian faith, for a dialogue between celibacy and sexual impropriety. Though those taking part in the making of the film have spoken of their study of the character of Gregor Mendel, I can't help but feel from the trailer that there is a certain amount of "reading back" of a narrative into the life that may be at the expense of strict, historical accuracy. The explicit articulation in the words of Pope Pius IX of a positive relationship between faith and science is presented in terms that come from our own times; I wonder whether, in Gregor Mendel's own time, that relationship would have been expressed more generally, and perhaps in terms of the relationship between faith and reason.

I look forward to seeing some more reviews of this film.

Hearkening to God's Voice

I could sub-title this post as "A reflection on monastic life and lay life".

First of all, Mother Maria-Michael's latest reflection at St Walburga's Abbey. This is entitled Hearken to God's Voice. Though it is is addressed firstly to her own monastic community, it nevertheless has a very ready application to the lay person engaged in the activity of the world. Our silence is not as much the literal, physical silence that pertains within the life of a monastery (though there is no reason why we should not seek such times of physical silence, perhaps in a time of prayer or Adoration). But it is still a part of our Christian life to have the attentiveness towards God that is the meaning of silence, and gives to that silence an Advent character. We are more likely to suffer the effects of a physcial iPod than a monastic one!

That reflections addressed to a monastic community have a relevance to those who live the Christian life outside of a monastery should not come as a surprise. In the 1950s, Louis Bouyer wrote a book entitled The Meaning of the Monastic Life. At the end of his first chapter, and the beginning of his second, he summarises the meaning/purpose (the French word "sens" conveys both implications together in one word) of the life of the monk as follows:
To be a monk, then, is simply to be an integral Christian. And regarded in that light, the Christian himself is simply the man restored by the Word of the Gospel to the vocation whichthe creative Word destined for him: to respond to the Word of Agape by the word of faith, in order eventually to meet God face to face....

...the monastic vocation is simply a call to the most perfect and direct realisation possible of the vocation of man in general and Christians in particular ..
I have just started reading a book which might offer some insight into this understanding of monastic life in relation to life in the lay state. Henri Nouwen is a name I have known for some time, perhaps most noticing that he spent the later part of his life as a member of a L'Arche Community in Toronto. Before then, as a rather energetic and busy academic, he took seven months out to live the life of a Trappist monk. Very unusually, a monastery accepted him to live their life for a temporary period. Henri Nouwen's notes/diary of this seven month period were published as The Genesee Diary.

After one week in the monastery, Henri Nouwen wrote the following about work, in the light of his experiences helping in the monastery's bakery and in physical labour. The italics added are mine.
I'd better start thinking a little more about my attitude toward work. If I have learned anything this week, it is that there is a contemplative way of working that is more important for me than praying, reading or singing. Most people think that you go to a monastery to pray. Well, I prayed more this week than before but also discovered that I have not learned yet to make the work of my hands into a prayer.
Now, if that isn't a thought from a monastery with a relevance to the life of the lay person, I don't know what is!

Saturday 5 December 2009

Pope Bendict and rap

Francis, this apparently has very little to do with Benny himself. See here. Though I do like the concept of "cutesfying" the Pope! And I haven't taken to Fr Stan Fortuna - like the message, but can't get the music (?). Must be an age thing ...

Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel

In the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary there are three Masses intended for use during the Season of Advent. The Collection (some 50 Masses in total) is, according to its General Introduction, intended for use in Marian shrines where pilgrims reasonably wish to celebrate a Mass of the Blessed Virgin even on days when the normal Liturgical rubrics would not permit it. It is also intended for those communities that celebrate a Saturday memorial of the Blessed Virgin during the Ordinary Time of the Year, to provide a wider choice of texts.

From the rubrical point of view, it is a moot point as to whether or not a parish should use the Masses allocated to the Advent Season on the Saturdays of Advent. A parish where the Saturday Masses are habitually used during Ordinary Time would, I expect, be within the intended spirit of the Collection to use the Masses for Advent. The Prefaces, in particular, are very rich Liturgically and catechetically. The one below is from the first Mass in the Collection, that of Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel.
You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
as the crown of Israel and the beginning of the Church,
to reveal to all peoples
that salvation is born from Israel
and that your new family springs from a chosen root.

She is by nature the daughter of Adam,
who by her sinlessness undid the sin of Eve.
She is by faith the true child of Abraham,
who first believed and so conceived.
She is by descent the branch from the root of Jesse,
bearing the flower that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday 4 December 2009

Sacraments and the "semi-detached"

I preface this post with a disclaimer! We really should not compare different people in terms of how well or otherwise they live the Christian life. Only God can judge between the "committed" Catholic and the "semi-detached", or even the "fully detached" (lapsed, to use the conventional terminology!) as to which of them really lives the Christian life better. And I do not expect that He will judge between them, as if deciding that one is better than the other, but only as to how well each has lived the Christian life, and I do not expect either that He will categorise them before He judges.

Nevertheless, we inevitably do categorise, and to an extent this reflects a realism in how we look at the world around us. No one individual or family is the same, though one is tempted to categorise them. There are those to whom one might attach the descriptor "committed" before the word "Catholic"; those who might be described as "practising", but perhaps not "committed"; and those who are "lapsed". I have adopted a category of "semi-detached" to describe those who, whilst not practicing consistently and perhaps not having a great formation in the knowledge and practice of the faith, do nevertheless retain a contact with the Church, perhaps at Christmas and Easter and, yes, in seeking baptism for their children.

Which of these categories are those who have the richest experience of living the Christian mystery?

I have never thought it to be the "committed", though that is not to say that I think their experience of Christian life is in any way hypocritical or false. It is very real, and I wouldn't suggest in any way that they change and become "uncommitted". If the Christian mystery is one of redemption, as well as one of fulfilment of the purpose of life, then those who have most experience of its aspect of redemption, that is, those who have most experience of failure in their attempt at living it, are perhaps those who experience it most richly.

It was in this context that I read Fr Tim's post on Baptising infants readily. Apart from what might be termed the pragmatic (in the good sense) discussion about the approach to the baptism of children that will have the best outcome in terms of encouraging the parents participation in the life of the Church, I think there is a question of theological principle. Those who come and go in their participation in the life of the Church live the experience of falling away and returning - of redemption - in a way that those who consistently practise do not. It might not be brilliant, and it might be full of human imperfection, but I think it should be given credit for what it is - as real a living of the Christian mystery as any other living of the Christian mystery. In purely human terms, it might not look like a "well founded hope"; but in the realm of grace it can be just as well founded a hope as that of the committed Catholic.

A similar consideration extends to the Sacrament of Confirmation. The trend for raising the age at which the Sacrament is conferred, and of insisting on the young adult themselves showing a "commitment" goes against what I have suggested above. It also goes against the understanding of the Sacrament of Confirmation as one of the sacraments of initiation. Yes, a basic level of commitment and goodwill towards the Sacrament for what it is should be required, as it should be from the parents for the baptism of an infant. But the very fact of seeking the Sacrament, and a willingness to take part in a programme of preparation, does I think demonstrate that.

Fr Tim's post refers to "gentle catechesis" being offered, instead of insisting on parents having to follow a course before their child is baptised. This has a couple of interesting implications. The first is that it suggests a part played by the priest in the catechesis - so often a pre-baptism course is delegated to lay catechists and the priest opts out. The catechetical role of the priest is irreplaceable. The second implication is that most parents really do not want to have to "turn up for a course". Another form of catechesis, less "academic" and more "personal", is probably appopriate in all except the most "middle class" of circumstances.

Needless to say, yours truly is not involved in baptismal or confirmation catechesis ...

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Pope Benedict's homily at Vespers

I have just read Pope Benedict's homily delivered at First Vespers for the start of the Advent season.

The Holy Father's catechetical approach reminded me of that he used in Cologne in 2005, explaining the idea of adoration by way of its Latin term "ad-oratio" and its Greek term "proskynesis".
I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word "adoration" in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.

We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.
In his Advent homily, Pope Benedict unpacks the content of the Latin word "adventus":
Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be translated as "presence," "arrival," "coming." In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary or the visit of a king or emperor to a province. But it could also indicate the coming of the divinity, which goes out of concealment to manifest itself with power, or which is celebrated as present in worship. Christians adopted the word "advent" to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is King, who has entered into this poor "province" called earth to visit everyone; he brings to participate in his advent those who believe in him, all those who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. With the word adventus an attempt was made essentially to say: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone. Although we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.

The meaning of the expression "advent" includes therefore also that of visitatio, which means simply and properly "visit"; in this case it is a visit of God: He enters my life and wants to address me.
The Holy Father's words about time complement the remarks in my post on Sunday about the meaning of the time of the Advent season by expressing an experiential dimension to that meaning:
If time is not filled by a present gifted with meaning, the waiting runs the risk of becoming unbearable; if something is expected, but at this moment there is nothing, namely, if the present is empty, every instant that passes seems exaggeratedly long, and the waiting is transformed into a weight that is too heavy because the future is totally uncertain. When, instead, time is gifted with meaning and we perceive in every instant something specific and valuable, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.
Do read the whole of the homily, though, so that you can appreciate the beauty and depth of Pope Benedict's words.


.... sounds to me, in rather irreverent mood as I post, a bit like a parcel delivery company rather than the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation.

Posting has been going on at Catholic and Loving it on the subject of CYMFed. I am afraid yours truly hit the "Say it now" button a bit quickly after reading the most recent post, but you can go and look at the evidence here to assess the damage. The links at the bottom of that post will take you to the previous entries in the "series" at Catholic and Loving it.

My own earlier, and more thoughtful, post on the subject is here. Reading this post will give you a more considered context to my comment at Catholic and Loving it.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Advent - Longing for Christ

Mother Maria-Michael has posted a reflection - longer than the ones she normally posts - for the beginning of Advent. I am happy to commend it to you, as I was enriched through reading it this morning. The post has the title: Advent - Longing for Christ.

More by accident than by deliberate intention, I went to Mass yesterday evening - and so caught the beginning of Advent at its very beginning, so to speak. Father's homily reflected on the meaning of the word Advent - a coming, that of Christ, in the historical past and in the future that we await - and on how we might live this time of waiting for the coming of Christ.

I was most struck, though, by Father's asking this question: why is Advent four weeks long? And why is the fourth week not really a week, but a few days, depending on exactly what day of the week turns out to be 25th December? Father suggested that the answer to the first of these questions was related to a cosmological vision (no, he didn't use that wording in his homily, but it was what he was referring to) in which the length of time from the creation to the coming of Jesus in human flesh was understood to be 4 000 years.  I didn't quite catch whether this was a Bible based cosmology or a patristic cosmology, so I can't give you the footnote. Each of the four weeks of Advent is then seen as representing 1 000 years between creation and the Incarnation. Father suggested that the "short" fourth week acts as a reminder to us that we do not know the exact hour of the second coming of Christ; it reminds us of the need to "stay awake", and prompts us to use the season of Advent to renew our wakefulness before the Lord.

Clearly, knowing today what science has been able to discover about the history of the universe, we do not believe in the 4 000 years. But the idea that the time of Advent, that is, the duration of the season, has a representative meaning; that the length of Advent is a sign in the Liturgical sense; this, I think is still a useful idea. Advent is an extended season in the Liturgy; it is not just a vigil the evening before the feast.

Particularly for those of us who have an education and formation strongly influenced by contemporary science, seeing Advent as "representative time" helps to give a meaning to time itself. If Advent represents the time between the creation and the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, then time is being given a meaning in relation to the mystery of the Incarnation seen as the destiny of the physical creation. And if Advent represents the time between the Ascension and the second coming of Christ in his glory - the time in which we are at present living - then it is giving meaning to time in relation to eternity, in relation to our looking forward to eternal life with the Trinity and all the saints in heaven, when all things will be one in Christ.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Wild Horses

Q. What do the Rolling Stones have in common with Bob Dylan?

A. They can't sing either.

Compare Susan Boyle's version of Wild Horses to the massacring of the same by the Rolling Stones. This can be done by putting "Wild Horses" into the search box of Spotify, and listening to the one after the other. If you do not already have a Spotify account (free) you will need to click on the "download" tab and follow the instructions from there.

The whole of Susan Boyle's album can now be accessed on Spotify. I found her rendition of Silent Night quite powerful.

PS. If anyone reading this ever bought a Rolling Stones record, and can explain why they did so in the comments box, it would contribute considerably to my understanding of human nature!

Friday 27 November 2009

Prince Charles on agri-culture

I caught, but did not properly listen to, some remarks made by Prince Charles at the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards ceremony. It took place, I think, on Thursday evening. Coverage was being broadcast on Radio 4 just after 9 am this morning. The BBC webpage for the awards is here.

What caught my attention was a distinction drawn by Prince Charles during his remarks between "agri-culture" and "agri-industry", commenting to the effect that the ethos surrounding the awards was that there was a culture associated with food and farming, and not just a question of production, perhaps on industrial scales.

This remark caught my attention because of its affinity to a thought of Romano Guardini, expressed in his collection of newspaper columns published as Letters from Lake Como. The danger of technology is that man becomes distanced from the reality of the world in which he is placed; he comes to live in a kind of artificial existence detached from the real, physical world around him. For Guardini, it is part of the original meaning of "culture" that man should live in harmony with his natural environment in a kind of obedience to its laws and patterns; yes, harnessing it to serve human needs, but no, not destroying its natural lawfulness.