Friday 27 February 2009

Pope Benedict XVI on ecumenism: "The real question is the presence of the Word in the world"

This post has been prompted by a discussion on the nature of ecumenism in the comments to a recent post. I think it shows that an understanding of ecumenism as a work for unity among Christians without the need for it to be seen as an "ecumenism of return" is a viable possibility. It is my commentary on the address that Pope Benedict XVI gave during his meeting with other Christian leaders in Cologne, in 2005.

Dialogue with other Christian denominations

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

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]

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 ….”[12]

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.

Thursday 26 February 2009

Sitting back and watching .... or trying to define "traditional Catholicism"

A couple of days ago, a comment (that I have not posted) to my post Questions and Answers Reflecting on Blackfen's "little spot of bother" told me that the text of that post had been distributed via comments on a couple of other blogs. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this, or of what its implications might be, so I thought I would just wait and see what happened.

1. That re-distribution has drawn my reflections to the attention of the "tradosphere", as perhaps can be seen in my own site statistics, in the comments on the blogs that experienced the re-distribution and in the dialogue in the comments box to my original post. Whether or not it was a strategy that conforms to the etiquette of blogging .... I think it did achieve what the person concerned wanted to achieve. I suspect that I share the frustration of that blogger in trying to get a different perspective noticed, in circles that could usefully enter into dialogue with it.

2. I received a visit from one commenter who appreciated finding an orthodox Catholic blog that was not dedicated to the extraordinary form. My long resisted temptation to put a "TLM free zone" strapline at the top of this blog has instead given way to my coining the phrase the "tradosphere". There might be a lot of "traditional Catholics" out there, either blogging or visiting blogs, but I have begun to wonder if all they are doing is talking to themselves. There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel that one aspect of blogging is dialogue - hence the concept of the "comments box" - and that needs difference.

3. The visitor referred to above indicated that they would look round my blog to see what else I have posted. So, I thought, what should I highlight for them to visit? I think the posts from my visit to Quebec for the International Eucharistic Congress must be up there - go back to June 2008 in the archive for those. I am quite proud of my recent posts for UK National Marriage Week, too (see February 2009). Whoops, sorry, I'll do penance later in Lent for the "proud" ...

4. Up until now, I hadn't really taken much cognizance (good word, that, I think) of what Cardinal Hoyos had said during his visit to England last summer. It was quite interesting to draw the conclusion, not by any deliberate intention, that the head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei's remarks during that visit were not based on the text of Summorum Pontificum or Pope Benedict's accompanying letter! And it is precisely those remarks that have encouraged the "promotion" of the extraordinary form in the way that I do not believe to have been anticipated/envisaged by Summorum Pontificum itself. The phrase isn't mine, but it does appeal to a mischievous streak: is this "the spirit of Summorum Pontificum" at work?

5. My approach to comments received at my blog. I start with a presumption to publish a comment, in the interests of dialogue. I then apply some filters. Courtesy comes high up my criteria for putting up a comment. I am also rather more interested in posting something that presents a substantial argument, or well argued opinion, and decidedly not interested in the ad hominem, (or ad feminam?); I can cope with robustness if it is in the form of an argument, I can't cope with robustness if it is a personal attack. It is possible to dialogue with a properly argued case or opinion, whereas generalised criticism is actually impossible to respond to (and much of the tradosphere's response to the Tablet article unfortunately seems to me to fall into this latter category). If a comment says something as a statement of fact about something or someone else, I will try my best to verify the truth of that comment before I post it; a clear expression of an opinion will not be subject to that quite so much.

6. And I am still trying to find the answer to a question of a few days ago. If, as I contend, "traditional Catholicism" should no longer define itself by attachment to the extraordinary form, since one of the implications of the language of "two forms of the one Rite" in Summorum Pontificum is that the one form is, juridically speaking, just as "traditional" as the other, then what exactly is the defining character of "traditional Catholicism"?

7. And, for Zero: I haven't stopped blogging. It's just that I got rather tangled in the tradosphere, and am hoping now that I will untangle myself ....

Monday 23 February 2009

The Marian character of the Lenten Season (1)

This is the first post in a series for Lent 2009. It introduces a basis for seeing how the position of the Virgin Mary in the life of the Church can be related to the season of Lent, and indicates the themes that will be taken up in later posts. Expect one post a week, as these are going to be the allocutios for our Legion of Mary praesidium during the coming weeks.

The Marian character of Lent

The Second Vatican Council, in indicating the principles for the reform of the Sacred Liturgy, teaches that:

The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.[1]

Under the heading, “Mary the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God”, the Second Vatican Council also teaches:

In the interim just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.[2]

And Pope Paul VI, at the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, solemnly decreed that the Virgin Mary should be invoked as “Mother of the Church”, a title to which he referred again in the solemn profession of faith that he gave on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in 1968:

“…we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, co-operating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed”.[3]

Pope Paul VI’s references to the “birth and growth of the divine life” indicate how the maternal role of the Virgin Mary can be related to the two-fold nature of the Lenten season. This becomes more explicit in Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus:

Mary is also the Virgin-Mother ….. exemplar of the fruitfulness of the Virgin-Church, which "becomes herself a mother.... For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of God."The ancient Fathers rightly taught that the Church prolongs in the sacrament of Baptism the virginal motherhood of Mary.[4]

Expressions of the Marian character of the Lenten season

The Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary contains five Masses for use during the season of Lent. These suggest the following themes in reflection on the Marian character of the Lenten season (1) Mary as a disciple of the Lord (one Mass), (2) the Virgin Mary standing at the foot of the cross (two Masses), (3) the mutual entrusting of Mary and the members of the Church expressed in the dialogue “Behold your son … Behold your mother” (one Mass) and (4) Mary as the Mother of Reconciliation (one Mass).

Though not presented in the context of the season of Lent, two Masses of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, also reflect a baptismal nature of Lent.

The Way of the Cross, a devotion associated with the Lenten season, contains two stations that are particularly linked to the Virgin Mary: the fourth station (Jesus meets his Mother) and the thirteenth station (Jesus is taken down from the Cross).

In the Mysteries of the Rosary, the Mysteries of Light can be associated particularly with the period between Christmas and the Easter Triduum. Of these, the third mystery (the preaching of the kingdom and the call to repentance), the fourth mystery (the Transfiguration) and the fifth mystery (the institution of the Eucharist) have a connection to the season of Lent.

[1] Vatican II Sacrosanctum Concilium n.109
[2] Vatican II Lumen Gentium n.68.
[3] Pope Paul VI Credo of the People of God n,15
[4] Pope Paul VI Marialis Cultus n.19.

Adrienne von Speyr: Confession

Earlier this evening, I read Hans Urs von Balthasar's introduction to Adrienne von Speyr's book Confession. A central insight of this book is to see Jesus' self-offering and death on the Cross as being the archetype of the "confession" of the faithful in what is now known, according to its title in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, as the Sacrament of Penance.
It is fashionable today to speak of a "sacrament of penance" instead of "confession". In a certain superficial historical sense this may be correct to the extent that in the first centuries confession was present in Christian consciousness primarily under the aspect of penance. However, everyone knows that in reality this was only an initial seed and not the full-grown plant. Indeed, it was a seed that scarcely suggested the dogmatic basis just mentioned, a basis whose centre is expressed by "confession" (Augustine's confessio, to admit or confess). Thus there is no real reason to dispense with the traditional word.

Fr von Balthasar was writing in 1960, before the Second Vatican Council, and before the revision of the Code of Canon Law. One wonders what he (and Adrienne) would make of the predominance in some circles today of the title "Reconciliation" to refer to the Sacrament! I had thought I had begun to detect a return to the use of the title "Confession" a couple of years ago, but this does not seem to have been sustained.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn.1423-1424), the Sacrament is described by the titles conversion, Penance, confession, forgiveness and Reconciliation, each title revealing a different aspect of the reality of the Sacrament. From a catechetical point of view, the exclusive use of one of these titles, without any reference to the others, will give only a partial impression of the Sacrament. My own choice when I have to use just one title is usually "The Sacrament of Penance", simply because that is the title used in Canon Law.
It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a 'confession' - acknowledgement and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy towards sinful man.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Forthcoming events

The first is our annual celebration of the Way of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration with the uniformed organisations (Guides, Scouts et) of the parish.

And the second is our regular first Friday Eucharistic Adoration. In preparing the poster, I forgot that during Lent the Holy Hour is normally given over to praying the Stations of the Cross, so it might well be the case that that is what happens.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Revolutionary Road

A dysfunctional film about dysfunctional people, set in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Those into the notion of the "post-modern" might well consider the story of the film an expression of everything that it means to be "post-modern" - meaninglessness writ large. Even the section of dialogue where Leonardo and Kate talked about "truth" in the earlier days of their relationship appeared utterly false.

A real effort had been made to achieve authenticity in dress, music, furnishings .... and continuous smoking ..... and, in some ways, this is the most successful aspect of the whole film.

Once again, a rated 15 film was really, in my view, a rated 18. There is a fair amount of swearing, and some of this is really gratuitous. The film also portrays, though discreetly, a back street abortion that results in Kate's death. [One of the few perceptive sections of dialogue occurs when Leonardo and Kate are arguing about the future of their unborn child, and he asserts that Kate would consider one of their earlier children "a mistake".]

If you are looking for a feel good movie, give this one a miss.

Plan E

This being the fifth version of half term holiday activities, it is Plan E!

Yesterday was spent at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. There are lots of aeroplanes to see, the site copes well with children and families. The Airspace hanger contains displays and activities about the history and science of flight. There are also displays about the manufacture of aircraft. The American Air Museum is an interesting building, as well as containing a wide range of American military aircraft reaching up to the present day. Some planes - I noticed this in particular with the Jaguar ground-attack aircraft in Airspace - are actually rather smaller than one might imagine. A "boys" day out!

Today was a healthy day, visiting Otford, the location of the world's largest scale model of the solar system. This was the idea of Otford Parish Council, and the model had to fit within the parish boundary. Each planet is represented by a column, with a to-scale representation of the planet engraved in the top.
First, the Sun:

Then Venus:

And here is Mercury:

Jupiter is down the side of the playing fields:

And Saturn is in the car park of the local doctors' surgery:

The other planets are further down the village, with Pluto outside the village on a local hillside. Each planet is positioned to represent where it would have been at 00.01 GMT on 1st January 2000.

As we visited, we met the designer of the model, who was cutting the grass to show the orbits of each of the planets that are represented on the village playing fields. The model extends beyond the United Kingdom, with columns in the Falkland Islands, New Zealand and Los Angeles, these columns representing the positions of nearest neighbour stars in the galaxy.

That was the easy bit of the day! We then went for a 5.3 mile walk from the village, up the Darent valley, up the eastern side of the valley and back down again. [The link will take you to an excellent four page leaflet giving instructions for the walk - it really is a very accurate guide to what you encounter at each key point in the walk.]

It was a beautiful day, but a bit muddy underfoot in places.


Photo opportunity:

And finally, a carousel to look after the cows:

Thursday 19 February 2009

Questions and Answers reflecting on Blackfen's "little spot of bother"

To read first hand about Blackfen's "little spot of bother", go here and here.
Updated: The Tablet article and comments are now here.
Updated again: I rather like Tigerish Waters observations here and here.

Q1: What is the significance of the language of "extraordinary form" and "ordinary form" in Summorum Pontificum?
A1: Explicitly, Summorum Pontificum speaks of "one Roman Rite" with two forms. From a juridical point of view, one should not consider one of the two forms as being in any way more "traditional" than the other form. [One might discuss in academic journals the historical development of the texts, but that is a completely different sort of question.] In a similar vein, a particular form of spirituality should not be seen as attaching to the celebration of one form rather than the other.

Q2: Should there be more celebrations of the extraordinary form in parishes as a result of implementing Summorum Pontificum?
A2: No, not necessarily. Summorum Pontificum makes it easier, from a juridical point of view, for celebrations of the extraordinary form to take place. This is intended, on the one hand, to help create a situation where groups who are not in a proper communion with the Holy See can be helped to regularise their situations, and, on the other hand, to ease the situation of those attached to the extraordinary form who take part in what one might call the ordinary life of parishes and dioceses. Nowhere in Summorum Pontificum, or in the accompanying letter to Bishops, is there envisaged the campaign to promote celebration of the extraordinary form that can be seen in some Catholic blogs, and associated with coverage of events such as the Latin Mass Society's training conferences.

Q3: Are there situations where celebrating Mass according to the extraordinary form should take precedence over celebrating according to the ordinary form?
A3: Two observations here. Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum explicitly contains the expectation that the ordinary form of celebration will continue to be precisely that, the ordinary form. The letter bases this on the fact that appreciation of the extraordinary form arises from a particular liturgical formation that is not commonly found among ordinary Catholics, and on the "juridical norms". So my first observation is that the ordinary form remains the ordinary form, remains the ordinary form and remains the ordinary form. In the majority of pastoral circumstances, the presumption should therefore be in favour of celebrating in the ordinary form, and not allowing it to be in a certain sense "displaced" by the extraordinary form. As a second observation, Summorum Pontificum permits one celebration of the extraordinary form on Sundays and Holy Days, with, in my view, the intention that this permission should be used to respond to the situation of those attached to the extraordinary form; it should not, in my view, be used to promote the extraordinary form. In my view, the arrangement of such celebrations should take place in such a way that there is no appearance of the celebration of the extraordinary form "displacing" a celebration of the ordinary form - that would be to offend against the notion of the ordinary form remaining the ordinary form. One way to achieve this, but not the only way, might be for such celebrations to be seen as celebrations at deanery level, rather than individual parish level, with collaborative arrangements for celebration of the ordinary form in nearby parishes.

Q4: Does Summorum Pontificum have any implications for parishes where no celebrations of the extraordinary form take place?
A4: Yes, and one should not underestimate the importance of this for having a complete perspective on Blackfen's "little spot of bother". Pope Benedict's letter proposes an idea of "mutual enrichment" between the celebrations of the two forms, and this is clearly relevant to every celebration of the ordinary form wherever it takes place. The relevant passage from the letter follows, with my own emphasis added:

The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.

The ordinary form can, in my view, contribute to the development of the extraordinary form in areas of participation by the congregation and a wider range of texts such as prefaces. But the extraordinary form can contribute to the celebration of the ordinary form a real sense of the sacredness of liturgical celebration and an attitude of faithfulness to the rubrics. This aspect of the phenomenon that is Summorum Pontificum has, frankly, been almost totally ignored in parishes and dioceses. And yet, it appears to me an essential part of the intentions of Summorum Pontificum with regard to its two directions of glance: both towards those outside proper communion with the Holy See (they will the more readily be reconciled if they can see the ordinary form being celebrated properly, in addition to their access to the extraordinary form for their own use) and towards those attached to the extraordinary form in normal parish and diocesan situations (there will be a real possibility of a kind of "mutual respect" between those attached to the two forms of celebration, that would avoid the occurence of "bother"). It is also the aspect of Summorum Pontificum that is relevant to most ordinary Catholics; it is in my view much more important pastorally than arranging for more celebrations of the extraordinary form.

Q5: Do I think Summorum Pontificum was a good thing?
A5: I have no attachment to the extraordinary form, so the juridical provisions of Summorum Pontificum with regard to the celebration of the extraordinary form do not directly affect me. I suspect that this is true of the vast majority of ordinary Catholics in the UK. I have no dissatisfaction with the Motu Proprio and accompanying letter in themselves. However, I am disappointed by the almost complete failure to implement the idea of "mutual enrichment", both in terms of the celebration of the ordinary form as discussed above and in terms of the development of the extraordinary form. Among the proponents of the extraordinary form, for example, I have tended to see a resistance to any development in the liturgical form (though I do recall an observation once about it being again a living liturgical form in the Church!). Another thing I am unhappy with is the feeling of being forced into "taking a stance" with regard to the extraordinary form, something that has happened, not because of Summorum Pontificum itself, but because of the promotion in favour of the extraordinary form that has taken place since. I am also disappointed in the continued use of the term "Traditional Latin Mass" (for example, in the title of a recently published CTS pamphlet) to refer to the extraordinary form, for reasons which should be apparent from my answer to Q1 above. It fails, in my view, to reflect the juridical status of the extraordinary form established by Summorum Pontificum.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

UK National Marriage Week (6)

UK National Marriage Week is now over, but I would like to add at least one more instalment to my earlier posts: UK National Marriage Week, 2, 3, 4, and 5. This, again, looks at one of the talks from the Sixth World Meeting of Families that took place in Mexico City in January 2009.

Michael Waldstein gave an overview of the situation of the family as educator in human and Christian values, from the point of view of the United States and Canada. One of the interesting things about this short talk is what it suggests about the relationship between parents and schools in the education of their children. Most parents have a strong reliance on schools for the education of their children; this can be expressed in a language of "delegation" of responsibility for education from the parents to the school. But if, as Michael Waldstein suggests, quoting Pope John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio:
The right and duty of parents to give education is
[1-] essential since it is connected with the transmission of human life;
[2-] it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children;
[3-] and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others" (John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 36).

then that "delegation" can never be absolute or complete. Indeed, it should not be a "delegation" at all, but a collaboration with the staff of the school.

In the context of the United Kingdom, the relationship between the school and family is probably nearest to this collaboration during the primary years; in the secondary years, due to the increased specialism of the subjects taught and the size of many schools, the sense of collaboration is rather less. What can parents do to make sure they do not give up what is their inalienable role in educating their children?

1. Find out, and understand as far as you can, what your children are studying in each of their subjects. This then becomes shared territory with your children.
2. Find out, and understand as far as you can, what your children are studying in Religious Education and in any programmes of personal and social education. Find out what texts they are studying in English, what plays or activities they are undertaking in drama, what work they are studying and producing in Art, what works they are studying and producing in music. These subjects, more than any others, will be forming the culture and values of the children.
3. Find out, properly, what is being taught in Sex and Relationships Education.

Another interesting point made in Michael Waldstein's talk is that, during holiday times, it is not unusual for parents and children to quite genuinely not know what to do together. This arises partly as a result of parents being at a distance from what their children are doing at school during term time; and partly as a result of the pressure of situations where both parents are working, and so have little time to spend with their children in the evenings and at weekends. To avoid this "generation gap", parents need to be able to spend more time with their children.

Something I only realised after my parents had died was that, at no time during my life, was there a time when I was uncomfortable being with them or uncomfortable about them being with me. Looking back, I feel that this began when I was very young and used to be taken out on Sunday morning walks (quite long, as I realised after a nostalgia trip to places we used to live) by Dad; it continued when Dad used to come and watch me playing home rugby fixtures at school; and when I regularly visited both my parents in their last years. And, because it started when I was young, when it came to teenage years, it simply never occurred to me that things were done any other way. Not going to Mass on Sunday never arose as a possibility! [Don't worry, I had then, and still have, a strongly independent streak - from my Mother's side of the family.]

In the last paragraph of his talk, Michael Waldstein refers 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.

Families that are not able to home school can learn something from the home schooling experience. It is necessary - and possible - to build for your family its own culture. This culture does not have to be the same as the prevailing, highly secularised culture of the world around us; it can be different.

Now all of this is about how something mentioned in a more theoretical way in one of my earlier posts is put into practice in daily family life. It is all about trying to share a genuinely common life, firstly between husband and wife, and then with the children of a family.

Monday 16 February 2009

Caroline Petrie: the outcome

I posted about the Caroline Petrie case here, examining what I still think were the professional and religious considerations relevant to the case. I have been meaning for a few days now to post on the outcome of her case.

Within the disciplinary processes of an employer, the proceedings of a disciplinary investigation (and a hearing, should one take place) are rightly confidential - they are personal and sensitive events. This puts a limit in what has emerged into the public domain with regard to the outcome of Caroline Petrie's case. The source material that is available for commenting on the outcome is:

pages - here and here - at the website of the Christian Legal Centre, who supported Caroline Petrie in her case

two statements of the North Somerset NHS Trust, which can be found from the press releases page of the Trust website.

From these sources, I have arrived at the following view of Caroline's case and its outcome:

1. Caroline Petrie did not, strictly speaking, "face the sack". What actually took place was an investigation within her employer's disciplinary procedures. If this investigation had decided that there was a case of misconduct to answer, and a subsequent disciplinary hearing had found that Caroline had indeed behaved incorrectly, then one of the disciplinary sanctions among others available for a serious offence would have been dismissal.

2. Caroline Petrie was suspended from work while the investigation took place. The unfortunate thing about this from Caroline Petrie's point of view was that, since she worked as a "bank nurse" rather than being directly employed by the Trust, this supsension ended up being unpaid. In most other situations, the suspension would have been with full pay. Strictly speaking, suspension is a "neutral act" giving no indication of innocence or guilt with regard to the matter being investigated. However, suspending a member of staff does indicate that the matter being investigated is very serious and might, should it proceed to hearing, involve dismissal.

3. The finding of the disciplinary investigation was that no disciplinary action would be taken. This is indicated by the following sentence from the North Somerset NHS Trust statement of 3rd February: "The background is that two separate concerns were reported from a carer and
a patient about the way a nurse offered her personal religious beliefs and that has been investigated but no disciplinary action has been taken at this time." However, the Trust statement of 3rd February suggests, and the statement of 5th February makes explicit, that guidance or advice was given to Caroline Petrie within the context of the investigation. This advice in essence is that, for staff whose principal role is other than the giving spiritual care, the initiative or first step in this area rests with the patient and not with the Trust staff. This is expressed in both the Trust statements of 3rd February and 5th February: "Regarding spiritual support by staff whose principal role is not to offer spiritual support, the initiative needs to rest with the patient and not with the caregiver. The personal views/beliefs and practices of the caregiver should be secondary to the needs of the patient and the requirements of competent professional practice." [The Christian Legal Centre report that Caroline Petrie attended a "disciplinary hearing", but the wording of the NHS Trust statements seems more to me to suggest that this was a meeting as part of the investigatory process.]

4. It is interesting to note that the Trust statements do not refer at all to equality and diversity policies, though some might want to argue an implicit reference to equality and diversity practice. Instead the focus of the disciplinary investigation appears to have been around the question of professional practice and the projection of personal beliefs in the clinical context. In my view, this is a very important point to appreciate about the case.

5. There is an important recognition that staff who hold religious beliefs are not expected to leave those beliefs behind when they arrive at work.

6. However, this recognition has a qualification attached, a qualification which is expanded in the Trust statement of 5th February by the addition of the reference to the beliefs of the patient: "Nurses like Caroline do not have to set aside their faith, but personal beliefs and practices should be secondary to the needs and beliefs of the patient and the requirements of professional practice." In most conceivable circumstances this qualification will not be problematical - a nurse or other medical professional will be able to carry out their tasks with regard to patients without it being in conflict with their religious beliefs. And attached to the preceding sentence referring to the context of the provision of spiritual care, it simply recognises the idea that the first step should come from the patient rather than the care giver - not, in my view, a problematical point. But, if the principle is detached from its context, it does become potentially problematical for a committed Christian, as it suggests that a code of professional conduct should take priority over their religious belief.

7. If the behaviour of staff of the North Somerset Trust towards Caroline Petrie in the course of her suspension is as described by the Christian Legal Centre website - a clear threat, before the carrying out of an investigation, that disciplinary action would be taken, for example - then it falls short of what one might expect of professional human resources practice. It contrasts sharply with the care of the subsequent Trust press statements.

What I am not sure about is the value of claiming in the media that Caroline Petrie was subject to a more serious threat of dismissal than the outcome seems to suggest was the case. Creating the impression of a significant threat to the positions of Christians who work in public services might well communicate to employers the message that there is a mobilisation of Christian's in providing legal defence for those under threat. But it could equally spread a message of a vulnerability of Christians. A more cautious media message might well be for the best.

Saturday 14 February 2009

UK National Marriage Week (5)

As National Marriage Week comes to an end, I thought to mention the Sixth World Meeting of Families that took place in Mexico in January. In my previous posts I have presented four key features of marriage: it takes place between a man and a woman, it is permanent, it is open to life and it is at the service of the communion of the couple who are married. The nature of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman that is an image of the relationship between God and creation (when marriage is seen as a "natural institution") and between Christ and the Church (when marriage is seen as a Sacrament) - this nature of marriage as a covenant runs through all four aspects.

A very interesting address was given to the World Meeting by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa. His address had the title "Family Relationships and Values according to the Bible". The full text can be found at the ZENIT website, and I do recommend a reading of the full text for the variety of its insights. I offer some passages and comments here.

My first passages, taken from two different parts of Fr Cantalamessa's talk and therefore connected in a way perhaps not originally intended, offer an interesting insight into the life of a single person as much as a married person. I have added emphasis to try and indicate how I think these passages refer to the life of single people - the "first step" and "includes right from the beginning" - suggest that there is something here that is appropriate to all people, whether married or not, that single life has its sense of being nuptial through the distinctiveness of relationship to the opposite sex (the experience of boyfriend/girlfriend).
Opening oneself to the opposite sex is the first step toward opening oneself to others, our neighbors, and to the Other with a capital O, which is God. Marriage is born under the sign of humility; it is the recognition of dependence and therefore of one's condition of being a creature. Falling in love with a woman or a man is the completion of the most radical act of humility. It is becoming a beggar and telling the other person, "I'm not enough for myself, I need your being." If, as Schleiermacher said, the essence of religion is the "sense of dependence" ("Abhaengigheitsgefuehl") on God, then human sexuality is the first school of religion....

John Paul II, in a Wednesday catechesis said:"The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and -- by means of this gift -- fulfills the meaning of his being and existence."

I found this next passage interesting because of the way in which it indicates that marriage seen as an image of the relationship between God and his chosen people is strongly rooted in the Old Testament.
The prophets played an important role by shedding light on God's initial plan for marriage, especially Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. They posited the union of man and woman as a symbol of the covenant between God and his people. As a result of this, they once again shed light on the values of mutual love, fidelity and indissolubility that characterize God's love for Israel. All the phases and sufferings of spousal love are described and used in this regard: the beauty of love in the early stage of courtship (cf. Jeremiah 2:2), the fullness of joy on the wedding day (cf. Isaiah 62:5), the drama of separation (cf. Hosea 2:4) and finally the rebirth, full of hope, of the old bond (cf. Hosea 2:16, Isaiah 54:8)....

We have to read the Song of Songs in the light of this prophetic tradition. This represents a rebirth of the vision of marriage as eros, as attraction of the man to the woman (in this case, also of the woman to the man); it presents the oldest account of creation.

On the other hand, certain modern exegesis is mistaken when it tries to interpret the Song of Songs exclusively in terms of human love between a man and a woman. The author of Songs writes from within the religious history of his people, where human love was assumed by the prophets to be a metaphor for the covenant between God and his people. Hosea turned his own marital situation into a metaphor for the relations between God and Israel. How could we imagine that the author of Songs would leave all of that behind? The mystical interpretation of Songs, beloved in the tradition of Israel and the Church, is not a later imposition, but rather it is in some way implicit in the text. Far from detracting from human love, it confers upon it new beauty and splendor.

In discussing the account in the Synoptic Gospels of Jesus answer to the question about divorce, Fr Cantalamessa comments:
...I want to emphasize the "implicit sacramental foundation of marriage" present in Jesus' response. The words "What God has joined" say that marriage is not a purely secular reality, fruit of human will; there is a sacred aspect to marriage that is rooted in divine will. The elevation of marriage to a "sacrament" therefore is not based solely on the weak argument of Jesus' presence at the wedding of Cana, nor in the text of Ephesians 5 alone. In a certain way it begins with the earthly Jesus and is part of his leading all things to the beginning. John Paul II is also right when he defines marriage as the "oldest sacrament."

This does, of course, have an interesting implication for the distinction that can be made between marriage as a "natural institution" and marriage as a "sacrament". It suggests that this distinction is, at best, of limited validity. The natural is ordered towards the sacramental, and the sacramental has grown from seeds present in the natural.

Fr Cantalamessa suggests that it is a mistake to concentrate efforts on behalf of marriage only on efforts to resist or overturn laws that are to the detriment of marriage. He suggests a greater commitment to witnessing, in concrete examples of married life, to the truth contained in Catholic teaching about marriage. Fr Cantalamessa presents this as the approach of dialogue with the world that can be seen in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Here is one example of how Fr Cantalamessa approaches this:
Applying this method of dialogue means trying to see if even behind the most radical attacks there is a positive request that we should welcome....

In his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict XVI has gone even farther, writing deep and new things with regards to eros in marriage and in the very relationship between God and man. "This close relationship between eros and marriage that the Bible presents has practically no parallel in literature outside itself."

The unusually positive reaction to this papal encyclical shows to what degree a peaceful presentation of the Christian truth is more productive than rebutting the error of others, even though we should find room for this as well, at the proper time and place. We are far from agreeing with the consequences that some today draw from this premise: for example, that any type of eros is enough to constitute a marriage, even that between persons of the same sex; but this rejection gains greater strength and credibility if it is connected to the recognition of the underlying goodness of the request and as well with a healthy self criticism....

Fr Cantalamessa does not lack robustness in his analysis of the ideological challenges to marriage:
Among the representatives of the so-called gender revolution, this idea has led to crazy proposals, such as that of abolishing the distinction between sexes and substituting it with the more elastic and subjective distinction of genders" (masculine, feminine, variable) or that of freeing women from the slavery of maternity, providing other means, invented by man, for the production of children. (It is not clear who would continue to have interest or desire at this point in having children.)

It is precisely through choosing to dialogue and engage in self criticism that we have the right to denounce these projects as "inhuman," in other words, contrary to not only God's will, but also to the good of humanity.

Christians' task of rediscovering and fully living the biblical ideal of marriage and family is no less important than defending it. In this way it can be proposed again to the world with facts, more so than with words.

The workings of immigration law

Monstrous Regiment of Women has been keeping her blog updated with the story of an asylum seeker who has been faced with deportation during the last week.

One wonders about the legitimacy of a process which allows a person to set off from their (home) one morning, to "sign on" as part of their regime as they await the outcome of an asylum application, expecting to return (home) again afterwards .... Only to find that, effectively, they are detained at the police station, without notice, though they are not suspected of any offence. It isn't quite a "disappearance off the street" sort of situation, but it is not very far short of it.

Monstrous Regiment of Women's series of posts is worth reading for what it reveals about the working of immigration law at the level of the ordinary people involved.

Ethical and Social Issues in Science teaching

I had reason this week to teach a lesson with my year 12 Physics class which addressed social and ethical issues. The relevant learning outcome from the AS Specification was this:

Discuss the social and ethical issues that need to be considered, eg, when developing and trialling new medical techniques on patients or when funding a space mission
And this is a typical examination question that tries to assess this learning outcome:

And there is a quite reasonable website which provides web pages that students can use and guidance for teachers about how ethical issues relating to Physics can be addressed through classroom activities.

I did manage to put St Thomas defintion of Natural Law into my Powerpoint (writing on a whiteboard is now archaic - I literally don't do it anymore, using pen/paper and a visualiser to project on screen instead). But overall, something nagged away at me about the whole thing.

The whole thing seems very superficial. The students simply do not have a sufficient philosophical education to really appreciate the meaning of a phrase like "doing good, avoiding evil". The result is that many of the ethical considerations raised in the teaching materials on the PEEP website are reduced to a certain arbitrariness or pragmatism. Take this, for example:

Future generations
Everyone is entitled to equal treatment, including access to resources and services. How will actions today affect those not yet born? This principle means thinking about others yet to come and making sure resources are sustainable for future generations.

The underlying idea that the resources of the earth are at the service of the good of the human person, indeed, of all human persons is missed out. I can be reasonably comfortable with the principle as expressed, and wouldn't find it objectionable. But, on the other hand, it does not really say what I feel would need to be said. There is no substantial attempt made to link ethical principles to how the human person is understood.

The unit of work that we were just completing included some work on ultrasound techniques, including in medical physics. In real life, a rather more acute ethical difficulty arises for a sonographer who has a conscientious objection to participation in abortion. Should they carry out ultrasound examinations of expectant mothers knowing that, should they detect an abnormality in the unborn baby, the parents and doctors might decide for an abortion?

I did find this principle, from the PEEP materials, objectionable by omission:

Value of life.
Can you put a cash value on a human life? How much should a civilised society be prepared to spend to save a life? What damages should be paid if someone is injured? Should other forms of life, such as apes or trees or a whole landscape, be valued equally?

I do not think it was intended, but students could easily go away from this principle not realising that the criterion of financial value is not the appropriate one to value human lives.

The addressing of ethical issues is, though, in the end, rather more apparent than real.

Kettles and pots ...

A conversation I had yesterday reminds me to link this post White Rose and White Flower, and its comments ... to this one Why I won't be giving to the second collection for the Catholic Education Service.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's Message for Lent 2009: Fasting

Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated his Lenten Message for 2009 to the subject of fasting. Here is an extract that caught my eye:

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one's body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a "therapy" to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.

Now, Blog-by-the-Sea has posted on Books and other Ideas for Lent. I was particularly struck by the Lenten recipe book she refers to....

It was interesting to see that the President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme were speakers at the press conference to present Pope Benedict's message.

I am not sure that I am looking forward to Lent this year ....

Wednesday 11 February 2009

UK National Marriage Week (4)

Parts one, two and three of this series have already been posted.

What is love?

The formulation of Humane Vitae insists that it is not permissible to break the connection between "the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning which are both contained in the conjugal act" (n.12). And in another classical formulation, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks of marriage as of its very nature "ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children" (n.338). In this way, the sexual act expresses a double meaning that is true for the whole of a married relationship, and not just for its bodily, sexual aspect.

The phrase "good of the couple" indicates that, through their shared married life, a husband and wife will come more and more to fulfil their natures as persons called to love and the specific vocation they have received to life with this particular spouse. They should "grow" as persons. This vocation is one to communion with God, and so one should expect religion to be a part of the common life of a couple, and growth in the practice of religion to be part of the "good of the couple" that is a purpose of marriage. In a marriage, this becomes a common endeavour between two people, rather than one that is undertaken by an individual person.

This growth is linked to the communion between the husband and wife. They are called to a life lived in common, a shared life. This should not be a life in which each spouse does just their "own thing" while happening to live in the same house as the other spouse; it should be a genuinely shared life. It involves a style of poverty in the sense that what was previously owned or undertaken "just for myself" can now only be undertaken for the community of the marriage, "for us". I might still earn the same salary and have the same job, but that salary and the work undertaken to earn it, are no longer just mine, they belong to the community of the marriage. Common life means doing things together - meals, chores, prayer.

I happen not to find the language of "mutual self-giving", usually used in the context of the unitive meaning of sexual intercourse, a language to which I can relate very well.[OK, being single might have something to do with that!] But, used with a wider reference to the whole communion of the marriage, it can express something of what each spouse needs to try for during each day. They give what would otherwise be their own to the common life of the marriage.

Where the openess to life that was the subject of the third post in this series is excluded, then the ability of the two spouses to undertake this mutual self-giving cannot help but be affected.

None of this is easy, and I expect that we can all think of marriages we know where the life of communion is not lived to this high expectation. There are spouses, though, who are trying their best, and hoping to get nearer to the communion of life that marriage is really about, even though they slip up. In the "catechetical moment" we owe it to them to talk about our high expectations, with all due charity, so that they can keep in sight what the aim is. We also owe it to young people who will in the future get married.

UPDATE (Thursday 12th February)
The February issue of New City dropped through the letter box this morning. One of the articles is entitled "The Root of Our Lives", and the introduction to it says: "Family life is beautiful, but as any married couple will tell you, it is not without its difficulties".

Once, when the children were growing up, the Schwingers drove to the seaside on holiday. They had found a reasonably priced cottage through some friends. Soon after they arrived, however, the family started arguing. The children wanted to buy all sorts of things which were not within their means. The parents suddenly remembered the words of the Gospel "Seek first the kingdom of Heaven ... and all these things will be given to you", which meant keeping the peace, being patient with one another, nor responding to unkind behaviour and above all including the children in sharing the responsibility.

"We put all our holiday money into a basket", Hans recalls, "and together we decided how we would spend it". The basket was accessible to everyone and everyone developed a sense of responsibility for the money. The children even shared in planning the meals, cooking and cleaning. "And harmony was maintained long after the holiday had ended".

I think the basket, containing all the money, and everyone's having a shared access to the basket, is a nice parable for marriage as a sharing of a common life.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

11th February: Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day for the Sick

The World Day for the Sick is celebrated tomorrow. This year, its theme is particularly that of sick children. This reflects the subject of the conference held (in November 2008, I think) by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral of Health Care.

I have finally found an English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's message for this day. It can be found here. Here is an extract:

This year we direct our attention particularly to children, the weakest and most defenceless creatures, and, amongst them, to the sick and suffering children. There are little human beings who carry in their bodies the consequences of illnesses which have made them invalids and others who fight against diseases that are now incurable despite the progress of medicine and the care of qualified researchers and health-care professionals. There are children wounded in their bodies and souls as a consequence of conflicts and wars, and other innocent victims of the hatred of senseless adults. There are ‘street’ children, deprived of the warmth of a family and abandoned to themselves, and minors profaned by abject people who violate their innocence, provoking in them a psychological wound that will mark them for the rest of their lives. And we cannot forget the incalculable number of young people who die because of thirst, hunger, lack of health care, and the little exiles and refugees from their own lands, with their parents, who are in search of better conditions of life. From all these children arises a silent cry of pain that calls on our conscience as men and believers.

Which petition will you sign?

Mischievousness gets the better of me, and I post the links to both of these petitions:

One can't help but feel that this isn't exactly what being a Catholic is really about .....

UK National Marriage Week (3)

The first and second posts in this series are here and here. This series of posts is an attempt to recognise that National Marriage Week provides an opportunity for a "catechetical moment" with regard to the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage.

Marriage is open to the gift of life

According to Catholic teaching, sexual intercourse is only exercised morally between a man and a woman who are married. Outside of marriage, the virtue of chastity is equivalent to an expectation of celibacy or virginity. This allows for the married couple the possibility of having children, and then the responsibility of educating and caring for them.

This possibility is part of the purpose of marriage, and is a part of what is expressed in the vows that a man and woman make to each other in getting married. A circumstance where the openess to the possibility of life is deliberately and decisively excluded from the start is sufficient to make the marital covenant invalid.

In order to successfully live out this teaching, married people, and those preparing for marriage, need to recognise two things:

1. Sexual intercourse is not intended to be a form of recreation, a way of achieving enjoyment in the same way that playing sport or going out for a day is a form of recreation. It is something with a serious meaning and intent.

2. Within a married relationship, the aspect of sexual intercourse needs to be "integrated" and lived, not just as a separate end of its own, but as a part of a whole inter-personal relationship. The bodily aspect of intercourse itself needs to be lived as an expression of relationship that is essentially a relationship of persons, in which the body plays its part but is not the "whole". This allows for moments when the bodily aspect might defer to the more strictly "personal" in the relationship, as well as for moments where the bodily aspect might rightly play a full part.

These two points might be termed "living chastely within marriage", and they have a practical demand of exercising self-control which applies to both the husband and the wife.

The idea of openess to life is expressed in Catholic teaching that the use of artificial means of birth control is not morally permissible. Contraception is a denial of this idea of an openess to life that is expressed in sexual intercourse. However, if we recognise that an integrated married life has its moments where the "personal" takes a kind of precedence over (but does not deny) the "bodily", and its moments where the "bodily" takes a kind of precedence over (but does not deny) the "personal", then this teaching becomes quite reasonable.

To go back again to my talk to parents of children preparing for First Holy Communion, the following passage and testimony appear relevant to a reflection on openess to life. explicit about putting Jesus at the centre at key moments of your family life. This comes first between the parents. When you encounter difficulties or important decisions it means sitting down and, together, placing Jesus at the centre of that situation and referring your choices to him. The following testimony is from the diary of the parents of a girl called Emmy Maria, who died from a severe kidney problem when just three months old.

“It was quite extraordinary what such a small child could feel and notice, and how we could tell what she felt…..The last few days our child was given to live among us were hard for the human heart to bear, yet extremely great and powerful, filled with promise because of the nearness of Christ.

“It was remarkable that each time we interceded for Emmy Maria and gathered ourselves inwardly, the powers of death withdrew and she revived. Whereas before she lay there apathetic and unresponsive, with half-open eyes, shallow breath, and a very weak pulse, she would suddenly open her eyes, look at us, cry, and drink, moving her hands and turning her head when she was gently touched: she would come back to consciousness. Sometimes such a transformation came within seconds.

“There was a special atmosphere of love in her room. It went out from her and filled the whole house, and united us in special love to each other….” [From the diary of Emmy Maria’s parents, quoted in Johann Christoph Arnold A Little Child Shall Lead Them p.53-54.]
This testimony reminds us that, as well as having a natural implication, openess to life also involves a supernatural dimension, an openess to the possibilities of grace.

PS. I think I had better take back my promise of shorter posts as the week progresses ....

Monday 9 February 2009

UK National Marriage Week (2)

Continuing the series of posts (first post here) to represent a contribution to a "catechetical moment", I would like to make some remarks about the permanence of marriage.

Marriage is permanent, for life

The Catholic Church teaches that the covenant of marriage establishes a permanent and exclusive bond between the man and the woman. What does this mean?

In the first place, the consent that the couple give when they make their vows of marriage is what brings the bond into being. It establishes a covenant, a binding promise between husband and wife. The promise cannot be a real promise if the people involved do not make the promise of their own choice, in freedom and without being forced into it. It cannot be a promise if the two people do not understand what it is that they are promising to each other. This is why the Church expects couples to follow a course of preparation for marriage - so that they can understand what the promise is that they are entering into, and so that they can make that promise with full knowledge and in full freedom.

The covenant is permanent, and binds the couple together for life. This can be understood when we remember that the relationship of husband and wife in marriage is an image (in a strong sense) of the relationship between God and creation, and, more so, of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. God never gives up on his love for the human race, and never gives up on his love for the Church. And, similarly, even though the Church is made up of people who sin, in the totality of her holiness represented by the figure of the Virgin Mary, she remains totally faithful to the Lord. The image of these relationships in marriage is also unbreakable.

This does not mean that the Catholic Church insists that a couple continue to stay together when such a life becomes impossible. That a couple might have to separate due to all too human difficulties that might arise is recognised by the Church. Also recognised is that, in such a separation, it might be necessary to use provisions of the civil law to assure the material well being of the parties, and, perhaps of the children. But the Church would still consider the couple to be married in an objective sense, and does not permit a Catholic partner to marry again.

In these circumstances, not re-marrying can be witness to the unity and permanence of the original marriage.

Forgiveness in marriage

"Staying" married is not always an easy task, and one of the areas that might need a couple to "work on it" is that of forgiveness. When I gave the talk I referred to in my first post in this series, I included a testimony about forgiveness between a married couple. In preparing that talk, a high proportion of the marriage testimonies that I read were ones involving forgiveness.

Veronique and Jean-Claude have been married for 20 years. At the moment when they decide to participate in a pilgrimage to Lourdes, their relationship is in trouble. Jean-Claude has already found a flat to buy for himself.

“I hadn’t been going to Church for 15 years, except for funerals and marriages. Before leaving for Lourdes, I had made it clear to Veronique, my wife, that she shouldn’t get her hopes up and that I would come home just as I had left. When I got to Lourdes, despite my state of mind, I was surprised by the joy that was in the air. That did not stop me from reacting angrily and violently to the teachings that I heard on the message of Lourdes. It offended me to hear: ‘ Penance, penance, penance.’ The last day, after a celebration, my wife wanted to go to pray one last time at the Grotto. I jumped at her: ‘Listen, I’ve had enough of prayers. We’re going home’. She replied: ‘Jean-Claude, for once, do this for me. Let’s go one last time to the Grotto before leaving.’

Whether I wanted to or not, I accepted. In front of the Grotto, I stayed toward the back. And then, I tried to pray. During the whole pilgrimage, I never really had succeeded. And then, all of a sudden a great light illuminated my heart. It did not take place on a visual or an intellectual level, but well and beautiful right in my heart. When we came back from the Grotto, I took Veronique’s hand saying that I felt something had changed inside me. My mistakes and my faults became apparent. It is from that moment that we began working on reconciliation, between us of course, but first with God. And since then, everything has changed in our life as a couple thanks to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” [A radio interview, quoted in Lourdes Magazine February 1999, page50.]

What I find most moving in this testimony are the words of Veronique - "for once, do this for me" - and the reaction of Jean-Claude - "Whether I wanted to or not, I accepted". These two phrases seem to me to be the point around which this whole testimony turns.

Sunday 8 February 2009

UK National Marriage Week

Today sees the start of a National Marriage Week here in the UK. This is not a specifically Catholic, or indeed, a specifically religious event, as can be seen from this link. It is, however, supported by a number of Christian organisations. Catholic dioceses in England and Wales have taken the opportunity to arrange a number of events during the week, some of which are listed at the end of this news release on the Bishops Conference website.

Elsewhere, and in different contexts, I have commented on the distinction between a "catechetical moment" and a "pastoral moment" in the life and mission of the Church. National Marriage Week seems to offer a good opportunity for a "catechetical moment", where the teaching of the Church about marriage could be presented positively. I will try to offer some short posts on this during the week.

Marriage can only be between a man and a woman

This is something that the Church would argue from the point of view of marriage as a "natural institution" in human society. The Church believes that this is the case even for those who marry having no Christian faith, whose marriages reflect their communion simply as male and female human persons.

This might appear as if the Church is wanting to impose its teaching on marriage even on those who do not share it. However, the Church's view is that marriage as a permanent relationship between a man and a woman is something that is for the common good of the whole of society, so she argues that it should have a kind of "preferred" or supported place in the legislative and/or social structures of society. One of the duties of government with regard to the common good is that of acting for the common good of marriage.

From the point of view of Christian faith, marriage is seen as a Sacrament, a visible sign of inward grace and, I would argue, office in the Church. It is a sign of God's love for the world, which is nuptial or married in nature. It is a sign of the relationship between Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride). The husband represents Christ and the wife represents the Church, whose figure is the person of the Virgin Mary. That marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, therefore, has a meaning not just for marriage seen at an ordinary human level. It has a meaning for our whole understanding of marriage and of the Church at a theological, doctrinal and spiritual level.


Some time ago now, I was asked to give a talk to the parents of children preparing to receive Holy Communion for the first time. This is part of what I said, trying to reflect on how a married couple might live out the sacramental aspect of their vocation, something that I suspect is not often addressed:

Adrienne von Speyr reflects on Jesus words from the cross - “Woman, behold your son…Son, behold your mother” - in this way. She sees John, the disciple who Jesus especially loved, as representing Jesus’ love given to the Church. She sees Mary as representing the Church who receives that love. The words of the Lord are therefore a nuptial blessing, establishing from the Cross the irrevocable relationship between Christ and the Church that is at the centre of St Paul’s teaching about marriage:

“If an ordinary bridal couple were to stand beneath the Cross and the Lord were to give them the nuptial blessing from the Cross, that particular couple would be exalted above all other couples in an almost unimaginable way. Once and for all in the whole history of the world they would be the couple who had enjoyed the grace of the Lord’s blessing. There is such a couple, but they are both virgins; they inhabit a place beyond individual sacramental marriage, where the Church (both bridal and virgin) is, at her core, the suffering Bride of Calvary. This couple is created by the Lord’s word from the Cross. In some way they thus become an original couple like Adam and Eve. In them, human relationships are refashioned by the dying Son.” [Adrienne von Speyr, The Cross: Word and Sacrament p.31, cf pp.29-35]

Igino Giordani, writing about his own family, says:

“If the family became aware of its sacrament and developed it….that is, if in addition to carrying out its functions in regard to birth, work, illness and care, entertainment and anxieties, it fulfilled also its sacramental role as the organ for transmitting divine life, in addition to physical life, and as copy of the household of Nazareth, so that the Father was Christ and the Mother the Church and the child was Christ-Church; if it were in the world as the representative of the Eternal, as the Church giving Christ to men and making of its fellowship a participation in the Trinitarian fellowship of God in heaven, realizing unity in trinity (father, mother, child = a single heart and a single soul), then its course on earth would be a repetition of Calvary, that is, it would bring forth redemption and resurrection” [Igino Giordani, quoted in Edwin Robertson The Fire of Love. A Life of Igino Giordani p.216]

PS: Don't worry - the posts will get shorter as the week progresses!

Saturday 7 February 2009

Film Review: Doubt

We went to see the film Doubt this evening. It felt very trendy going to the cinema on a Saturday (too many teenagers, but not going to see Doubt), and going to see a film on the first weekend of its general release. It is a film that is well worth going to see, even if you have to trek through the snow to see it.

The film is set in a New York parish school, where the parish priest is involved with the activities of the children - one scene shows him coaching basket ball. A young nun approaches Meryl Streep- the nun headteacher - with a concern she has about the parish priest's relationship with one of the pupils in her class. But at one point, the head teacher, chooses to disregard abuse taking place at home though being very determined in pursuing the possible abuse by the priest.

Themes of mistrust and rivalry between parish priest and school head teacher, and of change from a very traditional authoritarian Church to a more friendly Church, run through the film. I won't tell you any more than that!

The film holds the attention for nearly two hours. The film closes with Meryl Streep, convinced of the parish priest's guilt, admitting to her own experience of doubt.It is very thought provoking, and you reach the end of the film still unsure .... in Doubt.

Meryl Streep's headmistress is ferocious, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's parish priest is also quite determined. There is a certain style of arrogance in both characters. The life of the priests of the parish is caricatured in its comforts, contrasting with an equal caricature of the austere life of the nuns in the school. Amy Adams young, fresh faced nun is also very well played.

Don't look for Liturgical exactitude - it is 1964, and the parish priest appears to use an English language breviary, Mass is said ad orientem with the correct genuflections (so far as I can tell) at the consecration of the Sacred Host but with the words of consecration after the elevation.

We looked carefully for incognito clergy in the auditorium - but it being a Saturday evening we decided they were all saying their vigil Masses!

Next film on the list is Revolutionary Road.

Comment on the furore surrounding the lifting of the excommuncations

Catholic Analysis has offered some forthright comment on the recent media controversy. It goes across several posts, so here are the links in chronological order of posting (the link to the blog main page in the previous sentence can be used to find further posts as they occur):

Post, with comments, of a statement by Cardinal Francis George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The full text of the statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State on 4th February, with comments.

This post reports on action that the Society of St Pius X appears to be taking against those in its ranks who deny the Holocaust, and links to a Washington Post article that puts the recent controversy into a wider, and perhaps more important, context for the Church.

I found two points from these posts quite important. The first is that the anger at Bishop Williamson's remarks about the Holocaust is not confined to "liberals". This is Catholic Analysis's own comment to this effect:

It also needs to be made clear that the outrage over the Williamson denial of the Holocaust is shared by many conservative Catholics who do not take second place to anyone anywhere in their support of Pope Benedict XVI. This point must be made because of the silly, paranoid statements by some internet "traditionalists" that the outrage has been entirely concocted by a conspiracy of so-called "liberals" in the Church.

The second point, made very clear in the statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State, is the need for the Society of St Pius X to accept in full the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Popes John XXIII and successors before any reconciliation of the Society with the Roman Catholic Church is possible:

For a future recognition of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, the full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition.

The statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State ended with this paragraph:

The Holy Father asks accompaniment in prayer from all the faithful, that the Lord may enlighten the path of the Church. May there be an increase in the determination of the pastors and all the faithful in support of the delicate and heavy mission of the Successor of the Apostle Peter as "guardian of the unity" of the Church.

I wonder whether, at some point in the future, there will be doctoral theses written on Pope Benedict's understanding of his Petrine ministry as being one of "guardian of the unity" of the Church? But, at the present time, we can join in with the requested prayers ...