Saturday 31 January 2009

Virtual walking

Pope Benedict has recently warned against the danger of internet relationships replacing "real" relationships - see his Message for World Communications Day. Since the Holy Father makes no reference to virtual exercise replacing real exercise, Zero and I feel quite able to do this walk from home. Or, rather, we had planned to do it tomorrow and then found out Zero had forgotten she was working. My excuse is ....

This is what it looks like on Google maps:

The route description includes the following:

Terrain and surface:
Generally level, with some gentle slopes. Mostly on rough paths or tracks and on grass. Some fields may be ploughed. Six stiles. 800m beside roads

Refreshments and toilets:
Pubs at Chigwell, Chigwell Row, Havering-atte-Bower. Cafes at Chigwell. Public toilets at Hainault Forest Country Park and Havering-atte-Bower

And, at the end:

Completed a route ? Why not celebrate your achievement by ordering a completion certificate from

I suppose we will have to award ourselves a virtual certificate as well ... Being now out of breath, with aching limbs, we can have our pudding!

A letter in the Times

There is a letter in the print edition of today's Times newspaper headed "Papal Relations", and referring to the controversy surrounding the lifting of the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of St Pius X. The author of the letter is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, an independent insitute in Cambridge. Dr Kessler ends his letter:

... perhaps we can no longer expect genuine commitment to dialogue from the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church. The days of John Paul II seem a long time ago.

During his overseas visits, Pope Benedict includes a meeting with the leaders of other Christian denominations and with the leaders of other religions. The visit to Cologne in 2005, for the World Youth Day, exemplifies this. If this does not represent a commitment to dialogue "at the highest level" I am not sure what does. At the time of the visit to Cologne, I wrote the following commentary on the text of Pope Benedict's address during the meeting with leaders of other Christian denominations:

5. Dialogue with other Christian denominations

“The real question is the presence of the Word in the world.”[1]

5.1 Three contexts for dialogue

Pope Benedict’s address to representatives of other Christian denominations is arguably the most difficult of his addresses during the visit to Cologne. It is possible to identify in the address three contexts into which the more specific question of dialogue is placed.

The first of these contexts is the special situation of Germany, both as the country where the Reformation began and also as one of the countries where the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century began. Immigration from Eastern countries has introduced dialogue with Orthodox Churches and the ancient Churches of the east to the German ecumenical scene. Germany thus has a privileged position with regard to ecumenical dialogue.[2]

The second of these contexts can be summarised by the word “realism”. This realism wishes first of all to recognise the extent to which unity already exists, both as fraternity between Christians and in the supernatural reality of a common baptism:
“I feel the fact that we consider one another brothers and sisters, that we love one another, that together we are witnesses of Jesus Christ, should not be taken so much for granted. I believe that this brotherhood is in itself a very important fruit of dialogue that we must rejoice in, continue to foster and to practice.

“Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you just said, Bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28; Col 2: 12).

“Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. I Tm 2: 5), and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22; Ut Unum Sint, n. 42). “[3]

This realism also wishes to honestly recognise situations where differences have arisen and is clear in its presentation of a Catholic position:

“Another urgent priority in ecumenical dialogue arises from the great ethical questions of our time; in this area, contemporary man, who is searching, rightly expects a common response on the part of Christians, which, thanks be to God, in many cases has been forthcoming.

“There are so many common declarations by the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Churches in Germany that we can be grateful for, but unfortunately, this does not always happen. Because of contradictory positions in this area our witness to the Gospel and the ethical guidance which we owe to the faithful and to society lose their impact and often appear too vague, with the result that we fail in our duty to provide the witness that is needed in our time.”[4]

“We all know there are numerous models of unity and you know that the Catholic Church also has as her goal the full visible unity of the disciples of Christ, as defined by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in its various Documents (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 8, 13; Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 2, 4, etc.). This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world.

“On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one's own faith history. Absolutely not!”[5]

The third context for ecumenical dialogue is that of “spiritual ecumenism”. Pope Benedict cited the “father of spiritual ecumenism”, Paul Couturier, in urging that more and more people unite themselves to the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”, and affirmed his trust in the effectiveness of such prayer[6]. Speaking of Brother Roger Schutz of Taize, who had been tragically killed earlier in the same week, he said:
“I think that we must listen to him, from within we must listen to his spiritually-lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism. “[7]

5.2 An example of dialogue

As far as dialogue itself goes, Pope Benedict offered what he called a “small comment”, seeking to be excused if he had expressed a personal opinion, but that it seemed right for him to do so. He chose to say something about the questions of ecclesiology and ministry, which are suggested as the next topics for dialogue with the Evangelical churches following clarification on the doctrine of justification.

Pope Benedict started with the following sentence, a sentence rich in meaning for both Catholics and Evangelical Christians:
“The real question is the presence of the Word in the world.”[8]

Whatever the specific topic of dialogue, the real question that needs to be kept in sight is the presence of Jesus Christ in the world today. When Pope Benedict continues to develop thoughts on Scripture, Episcopal ministry and teaching authority this is what he focuses back to, recognising that this focus represents common ground:
“In the second century the early Church primarily took a threefold decision: first, to establish the canon, thereby stressing the sovereignty of the Word and explaining that not only is the Old Testament ‘hai graphai’, but together with the New Testament constitutes a single Scripture which is thus for us the master text.

“However, at the same time the Church has formulated an Apostolic Succession, the episcopal ministry, in the awareness that the Word and the witness[9] go together; that is, the Word is alive and present only thanks to the witness, so to speak, and receives from the witness its interpretation. But the witness is only such if he or she witnesses to the Word.

“Third and last, the Church has added the "regula fidei" as a key for interpretation. I believe that this reciprocal compenetration constitutes an object of dissent between us, even though we are certainly united on fundamental things. “[10]

Thus far Pope Benedict has presented what is clearly recognisable as Catholic teaching on the interrelation between Scripture, tradition and teaching authority[11], and, with the note of realism described above, has recognised that this is not something on which agreement exists. It has been offered, however, in a dialogue with notions of “Word”, “witness” and “rule of faith” that are quite familiar to Evangelical theology, and invites an exploration by his audience of the proximity between these notions and those of Catholic theology.

“… when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith

Pope Benedict’s words can be seen as a practical exercise of dialogue within the three contexts that we have noted. However, because the areas touched on are so fundamental to all theological reflection and ecumenical dialogue, they can also be seen as suggesting a basis for all dialogue between Christian communities.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[2] cf Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[6] cf Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[9] ie the witness of those in Episcopal ministry, so that Episcopal ministry is seen as witness
[10] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.
[11] cf Vatican Council II Dei Verbum nn.7-10 and Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.75ff.
[12] Pope Benedict XVI Address to representatives of various Christian confessions, Cologne, 19th August 2005.

What interested me when I first wrote this commentary was the sense that Pope Benedict had not only talked about dialogue but had also offered a contribution to dialogue. He had walked the walk as well as talking the talk. I think the nature of this address by Pope Benedict also clearly rules out the possibility of interpreting his approach to ecumenism as being one of "You-come-in-ism"; his contribution to dialogue shows how he puts into practice complete faithfulness to Catholic teaching and a real engagement with the thought of another Christian denomination.

In parentheses, Dr Kessler also makes reference in his letter to "damaged" Catholic-Muslim relations, arising from Pope Benedict's Regensburg address. But it is really quite interesting to see that, after the media frenzy had died down, that address has led to a level of Catholic-Muslim dialogue that would have been almost unimaginable before Regensburg. A responding public letter by Muslim scholars led to the establishing of a Catholic-Muslim Forum which produced a statement following a first meeting in November 2008 and which looks forward to a second meeting in two years time. This is the introduction to that statement:

The Catholic-Muslim Forum was formed by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a delegation of the 138 Muslim signatories of the open letter called A Common Word, in the light of the same document and the response of His Holiness Benedict XVI through his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Its first Seminar was held in Rome from 4-6 November 2008. Twenty-four participants and five advisors from each religion took part in the meeting. The theme of the Seminar was "Love of God, Love of Neighbour." The discussion, conducted in a warm and convivial spirit, focused on two great themes: "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect." Points of similarity and of diversity emerged, reflecting the distinctive specific genius of the two religions.

An immediate thought occurs to me, on reading the full text of this statement of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, as to how far its contents reflect fully different strands within Islamic life (eg with regard to women) - but the commitment of the Vatican to the dialogue is not to be doubted.

So, pace Dr Kessler, I believe that Pope Benedict is fully committed to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

The meaning of life

This is from Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Communications Day.
Life is not just a succession of events or experiences: it is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful.

Now wouldn't that be good on the side of a London bus!

The full passage:
Life is not just a succession of events or experiences: it is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by those who see us merely as consumers in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.


In a passage of his message for the World Communications Day, to be marked on 24th May, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the need to maintain personal friendships in a time of eletronic communciations. It is interesting to read that passage, and see how it places electronic communications alongside personal friendship and allows a kind of comparison of them.

A short time ago on this blog, I entered into a debate where my use of print resources led me to argue against a position that was being proposed, and was then defended, on the basis of links to an electronic resource.

And in my professional work this week, I have seen two situations where a message communicated by e-mail demonstrated the opposite of effective communication. If you want all your staff at school to sign a proforma indicating their business interests (required, apparently, by a new Financial Management in Schools Standard), do you best achieve that by sending out a generally worded e-mail to them all? Most school staff are not budget holders and therefore not authorised to incur expenditure against the school budget ... and so will see little relevance in signing the proforma. Predictably, they aren't going to do much about that particular e-mail .... And an e-mail setting up a meeting for several interested parties what just dictates a date and time - with the unstated assumption that, if you can't make it, you have declined to take part in that particular consultation, and we will go ahead anyway - also fails to communicate effectively.

It is sometimes very easy to send the e-mail or do the google search; not a great deal of effort is necessary. However, to achieve a communication that is true and effective - ie to achieve a personal relation in a broad sense of that term - is a different thing. Print sources can often be rather better evaluated than electronic sources, and can be more "personal". And unchaining yourself from the computer to actually go and see someone about something says to them: "Look, I value this so much that I have gone to the trouble to coming to see you about it".

Ah, but that may be the rub. It takes time and trouble ... but you do take time and trouble when you care about someone ...

PS: An ecclesial example of the same! Catholic and Loving It has a series of posts about some leaflets published in their deanery. The most recent post is here, and it contains links to the earlier posts. So, if you are worried about the future of the Church and you want to encourage the participation of your people in Sunday Mass .... write, (or perhaps "adapt" from somewhere else?), a series of leaflets! Brilliant! It is easy and doesn't involve too much effort ..... And your people might even grasp the message being communicated, albeit quite accidentally and without any awareness on your part that such a message is being communicated - this isn't actually important enough for me to devote a whole lot of pastoral effort to it ...

Science Teacher Solidarity

In solidarity with Mulier Fortis (see here and here), I thought I would post some "at school" and "at home" photos, on the theme of being organised in one and disorganised in the other.

First, "at home", after a tidying up this morning:

And now the Physics prep room at school on Friday morning:

I suspect that the reason for my having to tidy up this morning will become apparent later ...

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Thank you, President Bush

This post at Diakonia, itself a re-post, is an interesting balance to President Obama's inaugural speech.

I am particularly struck by its reference to the welcome that President Bush gave to Pope Benedict XVI when the Pope visited America. I posted on this at the time, and was able to see in it President Bush's study of Deus Caritas Est.

I also noted the following paragraph:
I should like to thank President Bush for his personal decency, manifest in his (unpublicized) personal attention to our wounded and to the families of the fallen; in his refusal to become bitter in the face of outrageous slander; and in his calm amidst tribulations that most of us can’t imagine.
This seems very true given the personal vehemence that could be seen in much anti-Bush protest. I think, for all the rhetoric, we have still to see anything of this courtesy in President Obama. Once we see through the oratory, his inaugural speech was not gentle in some of its implied criticism of President Bush.

Monday 26 January 2009

From a parish newsletter: "Maybe we need an Obama to shake us out of our complacency"

The "we" referred to here is the Church. The comment is taken from a parish priest writing in a parish newsletter (not my own parish).

This week I listened intently to the inaugural speech of President Barak Obama. It was powerful oratory but it was also shot through with gospel content and it was challenging to say the least. I'm sure what he had to say did not appeal to a certain section of Americans especially when he said there must be "an end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for too long have strangled our politics". I couldn't help drawing a comparison with the church. Maybe we need an Obama to shake us out of our complacency.

Let's try to "read behind the lines" and to identify the "false promises" and "worn-out dogmas". Presumably they refer to the policies of the previous administration, now about to be reversed by the new one. But, of course, a politician of the previous administration could quite easily take exactly the same words and apply them to the policies of the new administration. The oratory is certainly powerful, but it is hiding what is nothing surprising or special - that President Obama is not President Bush and wishes to overturn some key aspects of his predecessors policies.

There is another point in the inauguration speech where one can do some "reading behind the lines". "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.....Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake". President Obama explicitly relates this to the Founding Fathers assertion of "the rule of law and the rights of man". I think we are intended to "read behind this" a reference to the detention centre at Guantanomo Bay which is widely seen, and with justification, as an abandoning of the normal rule of legal process to facilitate the imprisonment of those seen as a threat to the United States.

Compare this assertion of faithfulness to American ideals with: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified." This is interesting because the political/ethical question about the balance between the role of the state and the role of the individual or family is put on one side, in the interests of an essentially pragmatic principle. Or, dare one say, in favour of a principle of expediency?

The final measure of President Obama will not be just the content of his inaugural speech, but of his actions. See here and here, for example, and the intention expressed by President Obama to work with the US Congress to restore American funding to the UN Population Fund, funding that was first removed in response to concern about that Fund's involvement with population control in China. President Obama's support for legalised abortion is very clear - and though he might decry the "politicisation" of abortion he nevertheless has a stance on the issue that is profoundly political. Independent Catholic News here reports the reaction from the Vatican to President Obama's first actions in office.

One can find passages in President Obama's inauguration speech that echo the values of the Gospel, perhaps particularly the suggestion that resistance to evil is as much a matter of a moral and spiritual resistance as it is a resistance based on the exercise of power.

But to suggest that we "need an Obama to shake the Church out of its complacency" ..... A bit naive to say the least ....

Sunday 25 January 2009

The lifted excommunications: What is "traditional Catholicism"?

"It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church's leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew"

It seems to me that this passage from the letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote to accompany the motu proprio allowing an easier use of the "extraordinary form" of the Roman Rite is key to understanding the decision to lift the excommunications that had applied to the Bishops ordained within the Society of St Pius X. An able drawing together of the comments in response to the news can be found at a Charlotte was both in a post entitled Your move. It is a long post, but it covers every aspect of the issue (so far as I can see), including the difficulties presented by the odd views of one of the Bishops involved. The texts of the correspondence from both the Vatican side and from the Society of St Pius X indicate that the excommuncations have been lifted in view of a forthcoming dialogue between the two parties with regard to other issues, these issues being diplomatically described as "open".

I cannot see that this situation would have been possible without Summorum Pontificum. The provisions of Summorum Pontificum, in my view, looked both towards communities such as the Society of St Pius X seeking to offer them an opportunity for reconciliation with the Church, and towards the life of the Church as a whole. In this latter respect, my view is that it is less the easier availablity of the "extraordinary form" that is the issue (though that is clearly a condition of possibility for the developments with regard to such as the Society of St Pius X) and more the question of "mutual enrichment" of the "ordinary form" by that easier availability, and the possibility of the enrichment of the "extraordinary form" from the "ordinary form".

Now, why do I say this? Because I think the forthcoming dialogue between the representatives of the Society of St Pius X and the Vatican has a similar two-fold glance. Where the reconciliation of other groups has occurred with a certain "quietness", the relations with the Society of St Pius X are high profile and will provide a kind of model for the whole Church. How the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is understood (and the correspondence from the Society of St Pius X indicates "some reservations", albeit in a way that can and should be taken diplomatically, as the indication is given in the context of the subject matter of the forthcoming dialogue with the Vatican), for example, is of just as much importance to those who celebrate the "ordinary form" as it is to those who celebrate the "extraordinary form". The dialogue looks both towards those who might be reconciled with the Church and towards those who are already in full communion.

Which leads me to the question I ask in the title of this post: What exactly is "traditional Catholicism"? This is clearly a political (small "p") question so far as the dialogue between the Society of St Pius X and the Vatican is concerned. But, both for that dialogue and for the rest of the Church, both those who celebrate the "extraordinary form" in communion with the Holy See and those who celebrate the "ordinary form", it is also a more a spiritual and theological question.

And we all have a stake in the answer to that question. I, for example, would like to know whether I should consider "traditional Catholicism" to be a movement in the Church like the many other "new movements". In which case, I would like to know and understand its founding charism - with both words, founding and charism being of importance here. Was it a movement that began with just the political (small "p") aim of keeping a particular liturgical practice after the Second Vatican Council, or is there a clearly discernable action of the Spirit in establishing a charism, a special gift for the Church?

The dialogue between the Society of St Pius X and the Holy See also needs to be informed by how "traditional Catholics" in communion with the Holy See understand their place in the Church, and how others understand their place in the Church. Is a "mutual information", analagous to the "mutual enrichment" of the two liturgical forms, required?

My sting in the tail! Since Summorum Pontificum and the establishing of a language of "ordinary form" and "extraordinary form" with all the associated precautions of the motu proprio itself and the accompanying letter, I do not think it is possible to define "traditional Catholicism" any longer in terms of one or other forms of the liturgy. One of the implications of Summorum Pontificum is that no one of the two forms is more "traditional" than the other.

Saturday 24 January 2009

The media and "the dialogue of truth"

In the post I did yesterday about the Vatican's Youtube channel, I linked to a video clip in which Pope Benedict XVI talked about the modern means of communication being at the service of the truth. In that interview, the Pope used the phrase "a dialogue of truth" to characterise the work of the media.

The print media have always contained an element of dialogue - through the "letters page" - but this now seems very limited when compared to the interactivity of electronic media.

Since listening to the phrase "dialogue of truth" I have called to mind two aspects of media coverage of the recent conflict in Gaza that might be considered good examples of this. The Times newspaper were consistent during the conflict in their reporting of the use of white phosphorus shells by the Israeli forces in built up areas, and held to it. Their reporting described clear evidence to support their story. This prompted the Israeli's to "investigate" in the days immediately following the ceasefire. I put the word "investigate" in speech marks because photographic and video evidence readily available on the internet, quite apart from the reporting in the Times, seems to counter the glib denial of the Israeli's reported here.

The other aspect is the reporting by the BBC of an incident in which Israeli soldiers are alleged to have shot three Palestinian children as they emerged from sheltering in a building, carrying white flags. The BBC reporting is summarised in this page, from the From our own correspondent programme on Radio 4. Previous coverage from the BBC news website (this from memory) reported that the BBC correspondents had verified the story from independent accounts by family members, and that the evidence had been passed to the Israeli authorities. The Israelis appear so far not to have responded to the particular case.

There is an interesting element of dialogue in both these stories. They are a world away, too, from the "investigative reporting" that simply chases down a story to to get a headline, or to get someone in a position of power or influence.

Friday 23 January 2009

The Vatican Channel on Youtube

Every Catholic blog must be linking to the Vatican's just launched Youtube channel. It can be found at

However, I was particularly attracted by this video clip, in which Pope Benedict explains the value of a presence of the Holy See in the modern means of communication. His reference to being at the service of the truth, and therefore at the service of peace, was what I particularly appreciated in this clip.

I was at Maryvale Institute last weekend, at the first residential weekend for a new cohort of students following Maryvale's initial teacher training course for Secondary RE. I end the lecture I do at this residential with a slide showing some photos of Edith Stein, suggesting that she can be a role model for us as teachers, and even more so for those of us who have some part in teacher training. My notes from this slide are below, and you will see how seeing education as being a service to truth resonates with Pope Benedict's interview in the video clip.
Middle photo: Edith Stein as a student at Gottingen (1913-1916) – moved there to study philosophy(=phenomenology) under Edmund Husserl – this period of her life can be characterised by “search for the truth” – encounter with religious phenomena as an area worthy of phenomenological study/encounter with people who were religious believers/encounter with Christians and the power of the Cross/being received into the Catholic Church

Right hand photo: Edith Stein while on the staff of the Dominican Convent in Speyer (photo taken in 1931, at the end of her time on the staff of the Convent) – she taught there for 8 years after becoming a Catholic, working with trainee teachers at the school as well as teaching the pupils; she lived an almost religious life with the nuns – “With very few words - just by her personality and everything which emanated from her - she set me on my way, not only in my studies but in my whole moral life. With her you felt that you were in an atmosphere of everything noble, pure and sublime which simply carried you up with it”. “She really gave us everything. We were still very young, but none of us has forgotten the charm of her personality…Her heart stood wide open for everything noble and beautiful to take its place besider her union with God. That is how she stands before us still”.

Benedict XVI: a reform of Biblical Exegesis

The January/February issue of FAITH Magazine has an article by Fr Marcus Holden entitled Beyond Historical Criticism - Pope Benedict XVI and the Reform of Biblical Exegesis. It isn't yet on their website.

In the context of Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth, Fr Holden identifies two key elements of a renewal of Biblical exegesis in the work of Pope Benedict.

The first is to purify the historical-critical method itself. ... There is no reason why we cannot conduct perfectly rigorous and impartial historical research on the history of ancient peoples and texts while believing at the same time in God, providence and divine inspiration...

A second way towards solving our exegetical crisis [is] to revive a truly theological exegesis as exhibited by the Fathers of the Church ....Almost all the Fathers of the Church, to a greater or lesser extent, employed in their writings a particular method of scriptural exegesis which they believed to have been established by the Lord Jesus himself and passed down through the Apostles. This method uncovers a "mystical meaning" of the Scriptures founded on God's perfect plan for the history and salvation of the world. This "mystical meaning" came to be called the spiritual sense of Scripture ... The spiritual sense pertains to the Christological significance of the persons, objects, events, images and symbols referred to by the human authors of the Bible. These significations are not extrinsically or retrospectively applied by rather God himself has established them in his far reaching providence.
This two-fold exegetical strategy is not just apparent in Jesus of Nazareth. It is also apparent in Pope Benedict's homilies and pastoral addresses. The General Audience address for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with its exegesis of the passage from Ezekiel, is a good example of this. The strategy has a couple of interesting consequences. Sometimes a homily dedicated to the readings of the Mass can end up doing little more than just repeating the reading itself. There is no danger of that with Pope Benedict, as the historical aspect of the exegesis "adds" to the text of the reading itself, as does the presentation of the "spiritual sense". A second consequence, though, is a quite delightful beauty in the exposition of the Scriptural passage, a certain sense of "newness" which makes you feel that, even if the passage is very familiar, you have just heard it for the first time. It is not, therefore, just academically effective; it is also profoundly effective at a pastoral level.

St Paul and Ecumenism

This is the title of an article from the Jesuit on-line magazine Thinking Faith, published to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The writer of the article is Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary in Westminster Diocese.

If you do read the article, you might appreciate my questions about it:

Does the article actually tell me anything about St Paul and ecumenism? Well, no.

What does "recognising the diversity of the Early Church" mean? The article has taken about half its length to describe the situation of the different cities to which St Paul wrote letters, thereby describing the diversity of the situations in which the Church of the times lived, but is it right to describe this as "diversity of the Church"?

"(St Paul) has a personal encounter with Christ and he has to try to work out what that means. Of course, there was almost nothing to assist him. The Gospels were still unwritten. There were no guides to Christian prayer or Christian living; this new faith was discovering itself. Paul, and the first generation of Christians, had to find out for themselves what it meant to believe in Christ and to put that belief into practice in their lives". Did not the first Christians receive their faith by the preaching of those who knew Christ himself, and then from those who knew those who knew Christ, etc.? Doesn't the Acts of the Apostles, and indeed Paul's own letters, bear witness to this? Whilst one can accept that early Christians, like Christians today, were exploring the meaning of their faith, to describe it as "discovering itself" indicates a certain ideology.

There is also a reference to the "state of inter-Church relations today". While one might accept this as a use of words simply reflecting every day usage, in the context could we have expected the more careful distinction between Churches and ecclesial communities?

As I finished reading the article, I asked two questions:

What does the article actually say?

And, following on from that and given that Thinking Faith is to an extent at least an academic journal, what about the role of the editor?

PS. "Suddenly, the hundreds of laws and regulations that had shaped his childhood, adolescence and early manhood have lost their foundation". But St Paul repeatedly refers to the Jewish origins of Christian faith, and of the dialogue between Jewish and Gentile in the nature of the Church.

Thursday 22 January 2009

General Audience for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

I apologise for linking to ZENIT yet again... but they are carrying a report of Pope Benedict's General Audience address yesterday; the full text is here. This address was dedicated to a reflection on the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

As usual with Pope Benedict, there is a very careful use of words - note "Christian Churches and ecclesial communities" - and a very beautiful exposition of the Scriptural passage from Ezekiel that has been chosen as the theme for the week of prayer this year. The analogy between the division of the Jewish people into the house of Judah and the house of Israel and the divisions between Christians today is rather fascinating and, until reading this report, was something I had not fully appreciated.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

More on Ecumenism

In an article entitled A Papal Priority: Ecumenism, ZENIT are carrying a report of an article in l'Osservatore Romano by the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Bishop Brian Farrell.

Bishop Farrell's article appears to recognise progress with regard to the Orthodox Churches (one can recall recent ceremonies in which Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew I have, as it were, shared a presiding role), but is much more cautious with regard to Protestant churches arising from the Reformation, where major differences still remain.

As the Pontiff noted then, Bishop Farrell said, there has been great "progress in the dialogue of charity" between the Catholic Church and the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, with exchanges of official visits from leading prelates from both traditions, and with a "sincere spirit of friendship between Catholics and Orthodox that has been growing in recent years."........

"Catholics and Protestants continue deeply divided in the concept of the reality of the Church, between a vision simultaneously spiritual and institutional -- Catholic -- and a vision exclusively spiritual -- Protestant," he said.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Christian Unity

I approach this time of prayer for Christian unity with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have no difficulty with the idea and practice of a time of collaborative prayer between different Christian denominations for the unity of Christians and the unity of their different Churches and communities. But, on the other hand, I can't help but feel that the typical joint service, hosted in turn by different churches in the locality, gives a misleading impression to the average Catholic in the pew.

My way of expressing the problem is to say that the understanding of ecumenism is not symmetric between the Catholic Church and other denominations, a comment particularly true of England. The teaching of Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism is that the fulness of the Church's unity exists unfailingly in the Roman Catholic Church, though real and efficacious elements of the life of holiness and grace exist in the other Christian denominations. Other Christian denominations, though, and in particular the Church of England, see themselves as being just as much the Church (expressed in a particular locality) as the Roman Catholic Church, and see the Roman Catholic Church in the same way as they see themselves. The reciprocal outlooks are precisely not reciprocal.

But the joint prayer can so easily send, by accident, a message that the Catholic participants are buying in to the Anglican view of the thing; it can send this message to both Catholics and non-Catholics. Only those with the most perceptive ecclesial sense will avoid being drawn into this. But it raises a huge pastoral problem for the ordinary parishioner who does not have this level of awareness.

I wonder whether it would be better for each denomination to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with a series of prayer events in their own churches and following their own traditions. Common Scriptural texts might be chosen, and common prayers of intercession ...

This passage from the Decree on Ecumenism is interesting in this regard:

Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.

For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church's image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God's kingdom is delayed. All Catholics must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each according to his station, play his part that the Church may daily be more purified and renewed. For the Church must bear in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle.

All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.

The last paragraph does make interesting reading in the context of Pope Benedict's anxiety for the unity of the Church, expressed in the letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum. It is important, though, to remember that this paragraph is addressed to those in the Roman Catholic Church. It would be quite wrong for the Church of England, for example, to take it as an approbation of their "broad Church" approach, which at its bottom line, contains a certain disregard for what is essential.

Message of the Parish Priest of Gaza

ZENIT are carrying the text of a message written by the Parish Priest in Gaza for an ecumenical day of prayer for peace and justice in Jerusalem. The message is dated 3rd January, and is written rather in the spirit of one of St Paul's letters.

It is a very moving letter, containing testimonies of two children affected by the Israeli attack.

We want you to pray to God fervently and continually and to mention the suffering in Gaza before God in every mass or service that you hold. I send short letters with Scripture to the Christian community here to bring hope to their hearts. We have all agreed to say the following prayer every hour on the hour: "O God of peace, shower us with peace. O God of peace, bring peace to our land. Have mercy on your people, O Lord, and do not be angry with us forever." I ask you to stand up now and say the same prayer. Your prayers with us will stir the world, showing it that any type of love that is not extended to your brothers and sisters in Gaza is not the love of Christ and His church, which does not let religious and social obstacles or even wars stand in its way. When your love is extended to us here in Gaza, it makes us feel that we are an indispensable part of Christ's one universal church. The Moslems among us are our brothers and sisters. We share with them their joys and their sufferings. We are one people, the people of Palestine.

A condition for participation

I was away from home at the weekend, and had the opportunity to attend Mass in circumstances where "say the black, do the red" is kind of taken for granted, with no big fuss being created about it. This proved an amazing treat on Sunday morning. My usual tendency to liturgical irritation was completely absent, leaving room for the words of the Liturgy itself to speak, and to speak with some force.

The juxtaposition of the reading of the calling of Samuel in the Temple with that of the calling of the first Apostles is really quite powerful. The few moments of silence after the homily - which I so often experience as a complete irritation - was actually quite fruitful as a time of reflection and prayer. And I also found I listened to the words of the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer with an enhanced level of attention.

Dare I say that I was able to "participate" much better than is often the case at Sunday Mass?

Saturday 17 January 2009

Clarification of Statement on homosexuality

ZENIT are carrying the text of a press statement by Monsignor Carlos Simón Vazquez, subsecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family. This clarifies an earlier contribution that Monsignor Vazquez made to the Sixth World Meeting of Families.

The statement is very clear in explaining why the Catholic Church believes that marriage between a man and woman should have a special place in civil law while same sex relations should not enjoy the same special place.

If this statement is combined with the address of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, there is emerging from the Sixth World Meeting of Families resources for a very clear articulation of the Catholic position with regard to same sex relations.

Sixth World Meeting of Families: continued

ZENIT are carrying a series of reports of events at the Sixth World Meeting of Families in Mexico City.

One report is entitled Families Praying for Families, and describes the availability of the Sacrament of Penance, of daily celebration of Mass and of Eucharistic Adoration during the pastoral-theological congress that has been taking place Wednesday-Friday.

Michael Waldstein offers a range of reflections on the situation of parents in relation to their children in the north American countries. This address urges parents to really take up their responsibility as the first educators of their children, and not to delegate that responsibility to schools, particularly given the increasingly secularised nature of public schooling. He ended his address referring to home schooling:

In describing the situation of the United States and Canada, however, I must also point to a more radical way in which parents are becoming involved in the education of their children, namely, homeschooling. According to recent credible estimates, there are about two million families in the United States that educate their children at home. My wife and I have eight children. We have been and are educating them from first grade all the way up to the end of high school. Four of them have already entered universities. The main reason why we began home schooling was the report we heard from close friends about the effect of home schooling on their family. The children, they said, became more friends with each other, because they shared the same experience of schooling in the home. The parents also became more friends with their children, because they shared more of their life. Like many other homeschoolers, we have seen that the global youth culture is not an irresistible force. It is possible to pass on our own Christian culture. The generation gap is not inevitable.
For parents who find themselves unable to home school, however, the question is raised here of the correct relations between the responsibility of the parents and the responsibilities of the school. Michael Waldstein highlights that this relationship should not rightly be one of delegation of responsibility from the parents to the school. It should represent a much more balanced, collaboration of the school in assisting parents in fulfilling their responsibility. And that, by implication, begins to set boundaries as to the engagement of the state in the running of schools. Public funding should not be equated to public control ...

The Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, highlighted Families With Greatest Challenges: Immigrants. This is a very topical question in the current situation of the world.

Further reports can be found at the ZENIT homepage.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Sixth World Meeting of Families: more reports at ZENIT

ZENIT are carrying some more reports from the World Meeting of Families in Mexico.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, gave a robust talk about the cultural/political aspects of family policy: Cardinal: Laws Reflect Confusion About Man, Woman.

This anthropological crisis, he said, "particularly widespread in the West," has been promoted by the gender theory, which adulterates "the reality of matrimony and the family, re-proposing the notion of the human couple starting from the subjective desires of the individual, making the sexual difference practically insignificant, to the point of trying to equate heterosexual union and homosexual relations."

Helen Alvare, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke on Family Is a School of Love. A passage from her talk reflects something of the talk of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa.

"Recently, though, I have wondered if there is perhaps no one message or set of messages guaranteed to open up people's eyes to the entire panoply of causes on behalf of human life. Perhaps, instead of a message, there is a place.

"Perhaps there is a group of people, and a way of life, that can do this better than any message." The place, she suggests, is the family: "The family which cares automatically for both the sanctity of human life, and its dignity -- can and will mediate respect for human life at all times and in all conditions better than any verbal formula.

"In the family we practice loving the human person in his or her entirety -- their body, their soul, their gifts, their promise, their hopes -- and we love persons from the first moment of their existence to their last.

"We do not say we want our spouse or our children or our mother to have life but not dignity, or dignity but not life."

One can perhaps see a reaction to Helan Alvares talk along the lines of "that is a nice picture to paint, but real families aren't like that". I think I would respond to that in two ways. Firstly, my pastoral experience suggests that there are more families that do live out what Helen Alvares describes than one might think, and that at a very ordinary level. And if some families do not experience what Helen Alvares describes, they are nevertheless called to it and it is quite right to suggest, in all charity and understanding, that this is what they are called to do.

The links to ZENIT are to their news reports of these talks, but at the bottom of each of the ZENIT pages is a link to the full texts of the talks.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Sixth World Meeting of Families: it is under way

ZENIT have carried some reports of the beginning of the theological congress of the 6th World Meeting of Families, taking place in Mexico City 13th-18th January 2009.

Family Meeting on Air indicates ways of following the Meeting via the internet and radio or television. Blog-by-the-sea gives some more links, to the official website of the World Meeting. Unfortunately, I have not been able to track down where (or if) there is a site somewhere that is quickly posting texts of talks etc from the World Meeting.

A Million Expected for Family Meeting reports Cardinal Ennio Antonelli's press conference in Rome to present the World Meeting to the news media. Cardinal Antonelli is the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Vatican department that supports the World Meeting of Families. The million referred to is the number of people that it is hoped will take part in the concluding celebration of Mass and families on Sunday. Enthusiasm and Numbers Grow for Family Meeting gives a list of some of the speakers due to take part in the World Meeting, and suggests that participation will be greater than the last World Meeting of Families in Valencia in 2007.

Preacher Gives Families Strategy to Win Back World is a report of the talk given by Father Raniero Cantalamessa at the World Meeting. Fr Cantalamessa's address appears to have been very wide ranging, but two points seem to stand out from ZENIT's report. The first is the emphasis on the spousal nature of marriage, rooted, as one might expect from Fr Cantalamessa, in a Biblical vision. A recovery of a spousal vision of marriage, not I think in contradiction to marriage seen as an "institution" but as an expression of what the idea of marriage as an institution really means, is what Fr Cantalamessa suggests. The second interesting point is a suggestion for how Catholics should respond to the current attacks on marriage in many developed nations. Fr Cantalamessa strongly criticises the "gender revolution" in terms that are, if anything, stronger than those used by Pope Benedict XVI in his pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia. But his underlying suggestion is that, rather than focussing on changing laws that undermine marriage, Catholics should instead prioritise the renewal of their own married life so that the witness of this life can then be offered to wider society and be accepted by that society. This change in customs prepares the way for changes in laws.

Though Pope Benedict XVI is not in Mexico for the World Meeting, he is represented there by the Secretary of State of Vatican City and will be following the events of the meeting closely. He is due to make two contributions via satellite/video links, one being at the end of the concluding Mass on Sunday. If the 5th World Meeting in Valencia is anything to go by, a highlight will be the celebration and testimonies of family life that is scheduled to take place on Saturday evening.

"They have given us a window when what we need is a door"

There are a number of interesting commentaries available about the situation in Gaza.

Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal, has published a briefing on the current war in Gaza and its historical background. The author of the briefing is Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and Global Security Consultant to an organisation called the Oxford Research Group (ORG). His international security monthly briefings are available from the ORG website at The briefing is interesting because of some of the key points made:

- an entrenched Israeli view that security for their own country can only be achieved through the exercise, and the threat of the exercise, of overwhelming military force
- an indication that American military aid has been crucial in the training of Israeli forces for the current war in Gaza
- ...mirrored by a view of Hamas that only strong (military) resistance to Israel is a feasible way of achieving gains for the Palestinian people
- that Arab states such as Egypt do not support Hamas, and are as concerned about the potential of organisations like Hamas to destabilise their own countries as Israel is about the threat that it poses to them
- the implications of Hamas (and Hezbollah elsewhere) as a kind of advocate for a population who are disadvantaged, when the government in countries like Egypt is run by political/social/economic elites
- Israel's look to the wider situation of the Middle East, in relation to the threat of countries like Iran to their own security.

There is an interesting missing component from the Thinking Faith article. This might be understandable considering its provenance as an adaptation of a security briefing, but it might also indicate a limitation to the work of, say, the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University. There is no effort in the article to present principles for moral judgement as to the right and wrong of the actions of the different parties to the situation in Gaza, Israel and Hamas perhaps primarily, but, in the background, governments such as those of the United States and of Egypt.

Caritas Jerusalem, a section of Caritas Internationalis, an international Catholic aid organisation, have sent an account of the situation in Gaza, that can be read at Independent Catholic News and here. Two medical centres run in Gaza by Caritas Jerusalem have been destroyed by Israeli bombs. Many families have abandoned their homes and are sheltering in schools. Children and families are suffering more than anyone else. The parish priest of Gaza has described the deepening crisis in Gaza as "inhumane and criminal". Referring to the tens of thouasands sheltering in schools, short of food and water, he also says: "The Israeli agression has made these people live like animals and our school is the zoo". Caritas Jerusalem's General Secretary summarises the situation by saying that "They have given us a window when what we need is a door".

The website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales carries the text of the comment of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem here: "violence, no matter where it comes from or whatever form it takes, must be condemned".

In his message for the World Day of Peace, written before the present war in Gaza began, Pope Benedict asked that people everywhere should feel "personally outraged" by injustice and the violation of human rights in the world, as a condition for redressing these wrongs:

8. One of the most important ways of building peace is through a form of globalization directed towards the interests of the whole human family. In order to govern globalization, however, there needs to be a strong sense of global solidarity between rich and poor countries, as well as within individual countries, including affluent ones. A “common code of ethics” is also needed, consisting of norms based not upon mere consensus, but rooted in the natural law inscribed by the Creator on the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom 2:14-15). Does not every one of us sense deep within his or her conscience a call to make a personal contribution to the common good and to peace in society? Globalization eliminates certain barriers, but is still able to build new ones; it brings peoples together, but spatial and temporal proximity does not of itself create the conditions for true communion and authentic peace. Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world's poor through globalization will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights. The Church, which is the “sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” will continue to offer her contribution so that injustices and misunderstandings may be resolved, leading to a world of greater peace and solidarity.

Have we been sufficiently "personally outraged" by the events in Gaza?

Monday 12 January 2009

Random Catholic Quotations

A short time ago, someone bought me a book entitled The Book of Catholic Quotations. This is, literally, what it says on the tin, sorry, on the cover. A randomly selected sample. Of this group, I like the first best.

Do not show signs of devotion outwardly when you have none within, but you may lawfully hide the want thereof. St Teresa of Jesus: Maxims

A dimple in the chin; a devil within. Irish proverb

He married the money and bade the wife to the weddin'. Seumas MacManus: Heavy Hangs the Golden Grain

To desire to be poor but not to be inconvenienced by poverty, is to desire the honor of poverty and the convenience of riches. St Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life

Thunder: Heaven's great artillery. R Crashaw: The Flaming Heart

If a man proves too clearly and convincingly to himself that the tiger is an optical illusion - well, he will find out that he is wrong. The tiger will himself intervene in the dicussion. G K Chesterton: Illusions

He that never climbed, never fell. John Heywood: Proverbs 1, 12

Poetry is devils' wine (Poesis est vinum daemonum). St Augustine: Contra Academicos

Sunday 11 January 2009

Focolare Epiphany Party ... and ice skating again

On Saturday afternoon, Zero and I went to this:

This proved a very enjoyable occasion, reflecting Focolare's spirituality of unity. It was quite interesting to see how the songs, readings and little play by the children confidently presented the Scriptural accounts of the Epiphany. We have a "Word of Life" meeting here in Romford - I host it every second month - and this party gave us the chance to meet another group who meet in Forest Gate.

During the meeting we had read to us the text of an e-mail from the Focolare community in Jerusalem, made up of Muslims, Jews and Christians. They had come together to pray for peace during the current conflict in Jerusalem. We also heard of a similar gathering taking place in Haifa. This reminded me of accounts from the Focolare house in Lebanon which, during the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, had taken in families from the south of the country who had fled their homes to escape the fighting. We were particularly encouraged to take part in the daily "Time out" for peace that the young adults of Focolare have promoted since the first Gulf War in 1990. The idea is that, at any one time, part of the world is spending a a minute in prayer or silence for peace. It is intended that this "time out" occurs at 12 noon in each time zone.

There was time before the Epiphany Party for .... ice skating at the rink at Canary Wharf.

These boots are made for skating, and that's just what they'll do ...

It was very cold, especially for the one of us who fell over (twice):

And to finish:

Do "traditional" Catholics pick and mix?

... but over different things than "liberal" Catholics? The thought is prompted by my reading of Pope Benedict XVI's Message for the World Day of Peace 2009. The full text of the message can be found at ZENIT and on the Vatican website.

In the second section of the message Pope Benedict addresses "Poverty and moral implications", and highlights five particular aspects of poverty that have moral dimensions. These are, in this order: the tying of aid programmes to population control measures, in a way that does not respect the rights of parents; responses to pandemic diseases that reflect anti-life policies and lack the teaching of a proper sexual ethic; child poverty, brought about by failing to support and protect mothers and families through health care and social programmes; the diversion of large sums of money into the arms trade; and the current food crisis which is leading to increasing food prices that affect more than anyone those who are already poor.

It is important to recognise that different people and movements in the Church have different parts to play in the functioning of the "one body". This means that some organisations and individuals will specialise in, say, what are usually identified as "pro-life" activities while others specialise in activities that might usually be identified as "social aid" or "advocacy on behalf of the poor". The fact that a person is active in one area and not in another is not of itself an indication that they are "picking and choosing" which areas of Catholic belief they will put in to practice. What should be common across the different areas of activity is an ecclesial dimension, that is, an attitude of faithfulness to the teaching of the Church that, while it might focus on a particular area for activity as a charism or vocation received, is nevertheless open to the whole. And, in line with this, every area of activity should retain a Christological and Trinitarian inspiration and, indeed, a Eucharistic dimension.

The question for "traditional" Catholics, though, is the following. As you read the list of five points from Pope Benedict's message, do you readily accept some of them (opposition to population control tied to aid, the support of sexual morality as a response to AIDS) but turn away from others (opposition to the arms trade)? Is there a temptation to opt for the politically conservative and turn away from the politically progressive?

The teaching of Pope Benedict in his addresses, messages and homilies - the "ordinary magisterium" of Pope Benedict XVI - really brings this question to prominence. It is indeed clearly signalled in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est with its two parts, the first focussed on Christ and the second focussed on the practice of charity.

Pope Benedict is the Pope of Summorum Pontificum, which has established the previous form of the celebration of Mass as an "extraordinary form" alongside the "ordinary form". He is also the Pope who has spoken repeatedly of the way in which we should value the created world around us. Catholics shouldn't really cheer for one without taking on board the other.

Friday 9 January 2009

Israel in Gaza

Video clips on the BBC news website, which I also believe have been shown on television news broadcasts, clearly show the firing of cluster munitions. As they explode in the air, these shells launch smaller bomblets across an area of the ground. The video clips show these as a widely spreading series of smoke trails reaching down to the ground, and then showing small explosions on the ground. The Times newspaper has reported these as being white phosphorus munitions, being fired from artillery, to create smoke screens that will shield Israeli forces. Their evidence is based on photographs of the shells in Israeli military positions and the nature of injuries being reported from Gaza. It is not clear from the video clips or the Times reports whether these munitions are being fired in open areas or over built up areas ...

Cluster munitions and phosphorus munitions are particularly hazardous to civilian populations ...

The BBC are also reporting the concern of the International Committee of the Red Cross about the failure of Israeli Defence Forces personnel to assist injured civilians on the ground in Gaza. Today's Times reports details of an incident in which Israeli forces failed to assist, or to facilitate the provision of assistance by the Red Cross or Red Crescent, to wounded civilians in Gaza City.

The President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has clearly spoken out on this situation, and his comments are reported here. Pax Christi UK's statement is reported here.

It is difficult to see anything that jusifies the Israeli action in attacking Hamas in Gaza; and, even if one grants a legitimacy to their attacking Gaza, it is rather more difficult to find moral acceptability in the manner of their action against Hamas.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Bishop O'Donoghue and Catholic Caring Services on Radio 4

Bishop O'Donoghue, and the director of children's services at the Catholic Caring Services in his diocese of Lancaster, Jim Cullen, appeared on Radio 4's Today programme today. They discussed the response of the Catholic Church to equalities legislation. For the rest of today an audio clip of the package can be found here. The full progamme (I think you would have to search through to find the relevant few minutes) should be available on the "listen again" function for the coming week.

Jim Cullen gave a couple of interesting indications about the work of the Catholic Caring Services. When asked about how the work of the CCS had changed in response to the legislation, his response was that there had been no changes made to comply with the legislation. This was because the charity was already non-discriminatory at the point at which people accessed its services. Talking about a situation where a gay or lesbian couple might approach the charity seeking assessment for adoption, Jim Cullen's response was that a same sex couple approaching the charity in order to make a political point would be treated in exactly the same way as a married couple who wished to adopt a child in order to solve problems in their marriage - and, I assume here, that this is a situation where the charity/good practice would decline to recommend the couple as adoptive parents. He also commented on a scenario where a same sex couple, two women, had fostered a child, maintained good contact with the birth family and had a good relationship with their fostered child. The couple then sought to adopt the child in order to maintain the good and positive bond they had established with the child and to avoid it being severed. Jim Cullen's observation was that, in this situation, "what Christian would break that bond" between the fostering couple and the child? I found this interesting for what it revealed about the way in which Catholic Caring Services are already operating. The position of Catholic Caring Services is that complying with the law will enable the charity to preserve the whole range of its work, which goes beyond adoption services.

Bishop O'Donoghue highlighted his wish to see a legal challenge to the equalities legislation that has led to this present situation. He also referred to his setting up of a support service, funded from the diocesan collections that would previously have gone to Catholic Caring Services, in order to meet his concern for the young people who might be adversely affected by his policy on this issue. He described the position being presented by Jim Cullen as "naive". He gave a clear account of the Catholic view that male and female are complementary in the marriage relationship. Bishop O'Donoghue did well in presenting himself as concerned and caring towards children; he could have presented more explicitly the position expressed in his most recent letter about Catholic Caring Services, viz, the view that it is in the best interests of children to be placed with a married male/female couple.

Jim Cullen offered a concluding observation that he recognised the role of Bishop O'Donoghue as a teacher of Catholic faith, but that his role was different. His role was to preserve the work of the charity, and that was what he was doing. This sounds very reasonable, but the question that it fails to address is that the charity, as a Catholic charity, can be expected to work in accordance with Catholic teaching. This does not permit the readiness of separation between the teaching of the Church and the practice of a Catholic charity that is an unwritten assumption of Jim Cullen's observation.

On the one hand, we are no longer in the days when a Bishop can dictate the activity of his lay collaborators - a quite unhealthy clericalism is possible in that sort of situation - and so I think that there is a rightful expertise and autonomy that belongs to an organisation like Catholic Caring Services. However, it does not follow from this that a declaration of independence from Catholic teaching is appropriate either.

Sunday 4 January 2009

World Day of Peace 2009

In England and Wales, this day is kept as "Peace Sunday" on Sunday 18th January. New Year's Day is the day in which it is marked world wide. Pax Christi have prepared some materials, endorsed by the Bishops' Conference, for use on 18th January. These materials are related to the Message of Pope Benedict XVI "Fighting poverty to build peace", the full text of which can be found on the Pax Christi page. Though I can see one or two points at which I would want to adapt them, these materials are quite useable.

There seem to me to be four aspects of the Pope's message worthy of particular note:

1. The account of the different types of poverty (n.2), particularly the references to "moral underdevelopment" and to "superdevelopment" - looking up these references to Populorum Progressio and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis is worthwhile to get the real flavour of what Pope Benedict is saying.

2. The section on poverty and moral implications (nn.3-7) addresses issues of demographic change, pandemic diseases, child poverty, the relationship between disarmament and development - clearly expressing the moral boundaries that need to be respected in these areas. Not a section that will play well with some aspects of anti-poverty campaigning.

3. A need for people everywhere to feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world (n.8), and a consequent need for men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way to accompany those on journeys of authentic human development (n.13).

4. The need for an ethical approach to economics at an international level, the need for an ethical approach by those in public office and the need for an ethical approach to participation to harness the contributions of civil society at local and international levels (n.12). "Civil society in particular plays a key part in every process of development, since development is essentially a cultural phenomenon, and culture is born and develops in the civil sphere."

Solemnity of the Epiphany

The Three Kings have arrived!

A prayer for a visit to the Crib during Christmas time
[This prayer was adapted from a meditation of St Edith Stein]

Dear Jesus, your hands reach out to us as we come to the Crib.
We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel.
We come like the wise men who followed the star.
“Follow me” say your little hands.

May we always listen to you when you call us.
Keep us together in faith and in hope.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to be at the service of your Peace.

Open our hearts to people who are suffering.
May each of us offer signs of friendship and welcome to people who are less well off than us.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to give our lives to you.

May we choose the way in life that you want us to follow.
In the light of Christmas, may we face the problems of life today, together with people of other Churches and religions.

Mary, you are the Mother of Love.
You praised the great things done by the Lord.
You sang about how God kept his promises to the people of Israel.

Mother of Love, protect our families.
Help them to stay together.
Give them the happiness of loving and passing on life.


Saturday 3 January 2009

The Holy Name of Jesus

A few months ago, one of the "mums" who regularly comes to Children's Adoration in the parish asked me to include a catechesis about the pious practice of bowing one's head at the name of Jesus.

I was reminded of this as I read one of the books I received at Christmas the other day. It is by Stuart Maconie (who I usually switch off when he turns up on Radio 2), and is called Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. He has a passing observation about Liverpool's Roman Catholic Cathedral: it is "a piece of sixties concrete psychedelia known as Paddy's Wigwam". The "Paddy's Wigwam" I remembered from childhood days, but "concrete psychedelia" was new on me. Much earlier in the book, Stuart Maconie makes a reference to "the way Catholics involuntarily nod after uttering the word Jesus". That definitely shows a Lancashire Catholic upbringing!

Today's feast day could perhaps be an opportunity to renew this rather nice devotional practice, and make it a conscious act of amendment for the very many occasions when the name of Jesus is taken in vain.

Boy Trouble

This is the title of a thought provoking post at tigerish waters. It describes (anonymously) an instance of homophobic bullying in a school some years ago.

It is a very useful post, I think, for the following reasons:

1. My own experience indicates that, though the vast majority of colleagues in schools are professional and lawful in the way they behave, there are nevertheless still one or two whose behaviour does need to be challenged. This is probably true of other professional environments, too. I sometimes wonder if people like this, and like the colleagues described in the post, become so used to their way of behaving that they do not recognise just how outrageous it is.

2. I think the post indicates a pastoral strategy - "Tell them that they were precious, tell them that promiscuity was wrong and to be wary of flattery. At the same time I’d make it perfectly clear that I personally disapproved of what they were doing but that that didn't stop me supporting them as a teacher" - that can be readily adapted to a number of different situations a teacher might encounter.

3. Teachers, and others with a pastoral care for young people, need to think ahead about how they will respond to difficult situations, and this post gives a positive help to doing that. You cannot predict exactly what you will meet ... but at least if you have thought about some possible scenarios you will have a much better chance of taking the right, supportive yet honest approach with a pupil. This is not just a question for individual teachers, but for Head Teachers and senior managers in schools too.

4. The remarks made in the post about the situation in which a gay person might find themselves, and the implications of the LGBT agenda for their situation, seem very prescient to me.

And I agree entirely with Rita about the importance of Catholics taking an approach like the one that she suggests, and that it is an approach that is not contrary to Catholic teaching. We need to contribute to a change in the way in which the response of Catholicism in siutations like this is seen by those outside the Church.

Newsweek on Tony Blair

The American magazine Newsweek published an article on its website on 13th December (in the print edition of the magazine 22nd December), entitled "The Double Life of Tony Blair". The tone of the article is intended to be sympathetic to Mr Blair, and I make the assumption that it accurately represents his position as discerned by Newsweek's interviewer.

Now officially Catholic, Blair continues to eschew orthodoxy. Though a devout believer, he stands in opposition to his pope on issues like abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research and the rights of gay people to adopt children and form civil unions. "I guess there's probably not many people of any religious faith who fully agree with every aspect of the teaching of the leaders of their faith," he says.

The latter observation represents an enormous assumption on Mr Blair's part, as one's perception of how many Catholics are faithful to Catholic teaching, for example, may well depend on which journals you read, which news releases you choose to take seriously and which type of Catholic circles you move in. But I think what this paragraph in the Newsweek article clearly indicates is that Mr Blair cannot and should not be considered as an authentically Catholic voice in the issues concerned. Some may like what he is saying and doing, but it cannot be considered Catholic.

Discussing the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Newsweek article says in part:

"To me what is important is that the whole faith area gets some what I would call muscularity, and certainly strategy." What, then, of the inherent tensions in his endeavor? For at its root, "interfaith understanding" runs counter to any religion's understanding of itself as the best or only path to God. Blair firmly says he wants to put doctrinal issues aside. Religious people must recognize "that other people feel that they have the one true faith, and you see how you can come together." Beyond this, he won't expand.

I think that Newsweek's interpolation that "interfaith understanding is counter to a religion's self understanding as the best or only path to God" is inaccurate - it is careless in the way it states the idea of truth in religion, and in religions, and it shows a lack of any real understanding of the idea of "dialogue". It does, however, raise the question of dialogue quite clearly. If Mr Blair wants to "put doctrinal issues aside", though, he will not promote interfaith understanding. Such an approach might be attractive to people of vague and unclear, or even no religious beliefs; but it is not "interfaith understanding".

Newsweek included a beautiful phrase in their report:

In a way, Blair's foundation is the culmination of his life as a double agent....All this work comes out of Blair's conviction that as globalization pulls the world and the people in it closer together, religion could pull us apart. "We have an obligation to present spiritual faith as something that is positive and progressive and solves problems and does good, rather than something that people only read about because people are killing in the name of it," he says.

One can detect elements of the pragmatic, New Left enterprise in the references to "progressive" and to "solving problems". And, as someone who has taken a public stand on one of the issues mentioned in the Newsweek article, it is good to see the rather different approach of Mr Blair being seen for what it is.

Friday 2 January 2009

Bishop Lang's pastoral letter for the Feast of the Holy Family

Monstrous Regiment of Women has a critical post about the references to environmental concerns in Bishop Lang's pastoral letter. What she points out is that, given events in this country concerning family and human life issues during the previous year, environmental concern should not be the no.1 concern for a Catholic Bishop since there are other, more critical issues facing us.

The text of the Bishop's Pastoral Letter is on the Clifton Diocese website, here. I found the references to ecology as such less problematical. However, I had some difficulty sorting out what Bishop Lang meant in the following passages. The emphasis added is mine.

Today’s feast of the Holy Family reminds us that the home is a holy place. For most people the home is where we first experience being loved and learn to love. Loving relationships are what make us holy – whole people. It is in love that we discover our humanity, our true identity. It is in loving and being loved that we discover the risks of loving, the challenge to our selfishness, but also the way in which love sets us free and enables us to flourish. Like Mary at Bethlehem, Christmas is a time to ponder our loving relationships and grow in their mystery. Christmas is a time to say thank you to those who love us. .....

If we are allowing the “message of Christ in all its richness to find a home within us”, the life of love we live must not only be about the love we have for one another but also the loving concern we have for the world in all its wonder.

An underlying difficulty in these passages is the ill-defined meaning of the term "love", or "loving relationship". These terms can easily be read - and heard - with an understanding of "love" that does not go beyond feelings and sentiment. The statement that "relationships that we feel are loving are what make us holy" is clearly nonsense; and the idea that "feeling loving" makes us "whole people" is similarly a complete non sequitur. What I really can't get a hold of is the suggestion that our being holy may be dependent on whether or not other people love us ... that love may be a mediating cause, but the essential Love that we need to receive and cooperate with to achieve our own holiness is the Grace of God, and some of us will achieve that in self denial, perhaps in the monastic life. To define holiness in terms of our relationships with each other is always going to end up being inadequate.

Love, adequately defined, will refer to its inter-personal nature - that is, it is something that one person shows for others, and it brings about inter-personal communion. It will also reach beyond feelings to an objective wish for the best for the other person. And, in this context, to use the word "love" of both our relationship with other people and of our relationship with creation as if the two form part of the same life of love is misleading. The sense in which we talk about love of persons and the sense in which we talk about love of creation needs to be clearly distingushed as distinct meanings of the word "love", something that the pastoral letter does not do.