Thursday 28 May 2009

Absence from cyberspace ...

We will be here for the next week or so (really, not virtually). Blogging suspended for the duration, as I am unlikely to be allowed near an internet cafe ...

Zero reports that the temperature tomorrow is due to be 31 Celsius, and thereafter a mere 24 Celsius...

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Street Dance - a fragmented art form?

There were two street dance acts in the semifinals of Britain's Got Talent, and their performances can be seen here and here, courtesy of Youtube.

My first reaction to watching them was to think that, from a musical point of view, the performances are incoherent. They cut and paste together different music in such a way that no unity results. I did not initially react to the disjointed movements of the performances - though the smoother movements of Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing on Ice did go through my mind. The idea that dance movements change over time, though, is only to be expected.

But, as an afterthought, I wondered whether street dance is an art form that can be described by the word "fragmented"? And does this reflect a fragmented society?

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Vote Christian??

In the forthcoming European elections we are being given the opportunity to vote for The Christian Party/Christian Peoples Alliance. The election literature on behalf of their candidates in the London area came through my letter box a day or two ago, and it prompts the following thoughts.

The leaflet is clearly targetted at the BNP, and particularly at discouraging evangelical Christians from voting for them. This is quite an important point to be made, as there is a clear temptation for evangelical Christians to follow the BNP's claim to stand for the Christian heritage of the country.

However, there are two strap lines that cause me some concern. One is that of the Christian Party itself: "The Christian Party: proclaiming Christ's Lordship". As a headline for evangelism, this is fine. But here it is being presented as the headline of a political programme, a programme which is identified in a specific way with the Christian religion. The second is a strapline for this election: "Put your X by the Cross!". This suggests that a vote cast in this way will be a vote for a particular religious faith.

The difficulty that these strap lines present can be expressed in two ways. Firstly, according to Catholic teaching, it is a specific role of the lay person to mediate the Christian life from the Church to the world. The lay person takes a course of action in the world, using their specifically lay expertise, which in this case is political expertise. This mediates Christian teaching into political and social action, but without the demand upon others of adherence to a particular religious faith. The second way to express this is in terms of what Pope Benedict XVI would call "appropriate secularity" in the political and social sphere. If the political and social sphere is to allow a freedom for the activity of people with religious faith, then it seems unfortunate to campaign in such a way that implies adherence to one particular religion. This is not to say that religious faith is banned from the political and social sphere; just that its engagement should be a mediated one through the "secular" activity of believers.

There needs to be a certain "distance" between the profession of a religion and a campaign of political action. This is, from the point of view of principle, because any course of political action has a "transitory" or "temporary" nature to it, a certain dependence on the specific circumstances in which it is undertaken. It is important that this course of action is not identified definitively with the content of faith, which has a permanent and transcendent character. At a practical level, it is all too easy for the proponent of political activity to be associated with behaviour that falls short of the expectations of a religious faith, whether by accident , intent or the imputation of others.

This "distance" also allows the lay person a genuine freedom to live out their faith in social and political action, with the successes and failings that go with any attempt to live the Christian life.

Monday 25 May 2009

Elizabeth Kirwan - co-founder of the Legion of Mary?

Mr Frank Duff is normally considered to have been the founder of the Legion of Mary. But, as with the Focolare, where Chiara Lubich is the generally recognised founder but Igino Giordano and Fr Pasquale Foresi are thought of as co-founders, can one suggest that Elizabeth Kirwan has a right to be considered in some sense as a co-founder of the Legion?

The section of the Diocesan website for the Diocese of Christchurch in New Zealand has an entry for the Legion of Mary . Understandably (to any except the Irish?) this is what that entry says about the foundation of the Legion:

The Legion’s Origin
It commenced in Dublin in 1921, to serve God in the Lay Apostolate, with a New Zealander Elizabeth Kirwan as its first president. It has since spread throughout the world and reached Oceania in 1932, Dunedin in 1933 and Christchurch in 1934.

A google search using "Elizabeth Kirwan Legion of Mary" suggests that, in New Zealand, Legion premises that might in Ireland be called "Frank Duff House" are instead named "Elizabeth Kirwan House"!

That Elizabeth Kirwan was the president of the first praesidium of the Legion is correct; she was also, later, the first president of the association as a whole after it had developed into several praesidia under a supreme council called Concilium. The pattern of what is now seen as the first meeting of a Legion praesidium was taken from that of a monthly meeting that Mrs Kirwan had been running for young girls in Dublin, a meeting that had been going for some four years before the Legion itself began. [Nowadays this meeting would roughly be equivalent to a parish or deanery young adults group, though with a stronger sense of prayer and apostolic work than might be common in such groups today.] Many of the features of the Legion meeting today - but, interestingly, not the altar which began as a spontaneous new feature of the meeting on 7th September 1921 - were inherited from the pattern of Mrs Kirwan's monthly meetings. Her sense of discipline can also be seen in the notion of respect for the integrity of the Legion system that continues today.

I suspect that Frank Duff would have quite approved of the idea of Elizabeth Kirwan as a co-founder of the Legion. Those who knew him report that he was uncomfortable with talk of himself as the founder. The secretary elected at the first meeting of the Legion on 7th September 1921 recorded Frank Duff's name as the first in the list of attendees. Frank Duff crossed that out (initially the group was going to be only open to women to avoid any sense of competition with the Society of St Vincent de Paul). Instead, we find in Frank Duff's own handwriting, an addition at the bottom of the minutes to say that "Frank Duff also attended the meeting".

Sunday 24 May 2009

I missed this completely ....

... but there seems to be a quite full account here.

I am reminded a bit of some coverage in The Times at the beginning of Pope Benedict's recent visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most of the text - most of a page, if I remember correctly - referred back to previous adverse coverage of the Holy Father. Was that a result of editors and sub-editors at play?

Promoting vocations and religious practice

I found this post at Young Fogeys interesting.

It has some echoes of an article in the April-June 2009 issue of The Sower. The article is by Amette Ley, and is entitled "God's Pedagogy and the call to obedience". It is one of Amette's "On the Spot" articles which seeks to suggest responses to difficult questions or situations which might arise in the work of the catechesis.

In this article, Amette draws on the idea of a "divine pedagogy", that is found in the General Directory for Catechesis, and examines the idea of response to God's revelation (obedience) in that context. Amette looks at the idea of our response to God in revelation: knowledge and freedom (Adam and Eve's fall), effort is needed (Noah has to undertake the task of building the Ark), renunciation (Abram must undergo a journey), courage (Moses confrontation with Pharaoh), abandonment of our own plans (David does not build a house for the Ark, instead accepting God's promise of a household/dynasty of his own) ... all leading up to Christ as the example par excellence of response to the mission received from the Father (obedience even unto death).

There are then similar stages that we go through - or need to go through - in our own development of a response to God's call to us: the transition from going to Mass without protest, to realising that we will have to make some effort to get there, to taking a full responsibility of our own for going to Mass. The same applies to other areas of Christian living.

What Amette points out, though, and this is where there is an echo to the article at Young Fogeys, is that this is something about which we need to talk to our children and young people. We need to be explicit about it, and not just assume that it will happen by accident. If they do not know and understand the process of growth in faith that is represented here - and is exemplified in the way in which God has dealt with his people down the ages - they are not going to live it. They will simply rebel through lack of knowledge.

Or, in teacher-speak, it is about assessment for learning: the student needs to know where they are at now, and then what they have to do to improve and progress to the next stage in their learning.

And the connection to vocations awareness is pretty clear.

Sr Wendy Beckett on Radio 2

Sr Wendy was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio 2's Sunday morning programme hosted by Aled Jones. I caught the second half of the interview (which tells you how long I was able to lie in this morning!). Sr Wendy was talking about her most recent book, a study of early Christian icons of the Blessed Virgin (this was the bit of the interview I missed).

Aled Jones asked Sr Wendy about her daily routine: "Get up ... pray ... go to Mass ... pray ... pray ... pray ... pray ... pray ... pray ... go to bed". (I feel sure there is some eating in there somewhere, too).

And about how she kept in touch with what was happening in the outside world - radio, television? "Oh no". Does that mean that you can't listen to this programme? "That is such a shame [though the listener inevitably thought that Sr would not miss radio].... I see yesterday's paper. I read the front page, and then the back page for the sport and the obituaries". And, in a touch very appropriate to the Year of St Paul, Sr Wendy explained that she did not have a favourite football team but read the sports pages because she was inspired by the way in which people taking part in sport were so keen to succeed that they gave their whole lives to it.

I liked Sr Wendy's "moment of reflection" just before the 8 am news bulletin (in the past, this was a time of prayer led by the guest, but has been subjected to the process of secularisation on the grounds, I suppose, of equality). It was an extract from her new book and spoke about the way in which the early icons of the Blessed Virgin could give a vividness and immediacy to what can become a Christian life now that is primarily oriented by doctrinal teaching and learning.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Archbishop Nichols' Installation Mass

[Photo credit: M.Mazur/CCN]

This image of Archbishop Nichols as he entered Westminster Cathedral seems to me wonderfully iconic. The modern buildings in the background - shops and offices - show the presence of a Church in the modern world.

A couple of people I spoke to yesterday, who had been able to see (or hear) some of the news media coverage on Thursday, described this event very favourably. There was favourable comment on the coverage by the BBC, and on the coverage by Premier Christian Radio, who were reported to have been giving very careful explanations of what was happening during their coverage. This latter is interesting from two points of view. I suspect it drew heavily on the press and web materials prepared for the event - one up to those responsible for that. Premier is a Christian radio station that broadcasts to the London area, and I do not think I am being unfair if I describe some of its output as being Christian in the way in which Evangelical Christians use the term Christian. So it is very interesting, and encouraging, that they appear to have given Archbishop Nichols' installation significant coverage.

Bess Twiston Davies describes the installation in the "At your service" column in today's Times. This piece contains the rather intriguing:

While not a precise equivalent to the Archbishop of Canterbury in terms of leadership - the leader of England and Wales's Roman Catholics is technically the president of the Bishops' Conference, a title already bestowed upon Nichols - the Archbishop of Westminster is usually made a cardinal and will often give the Catholic view on matters of national import.
The term "leadership", taken alone, represents somewhat of a reduction from the full understanding of the office of a Bishop, so it is rather intriguing to see that being the category used for comparison of the sees of Canterbury and Westminster; it naturally results in the promotion of the status of president of the Bishops' Conference to a kind of quasi-jurisdiction.

The article continues:

This is reflected in the greeting given him by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury: "The Roman Catholic and Anglican communities in England and Wales have the God-given task ... of making the Good News of Jesus compelling and attractive to a generation deeply in need of hope," he says.
It was interesting to see the installation of a Roman Catholic Archbishop achieving the kind of media status that might in the past have been associated only with occasions of state. But the hazard is that, as in this Times article, there is a certain assimilation in the consciousness of the installation to such occasions of state. -

The bit I liked best in the Times article, though, having been a Master of Ceremonies, is this:

Some 500 clergy, dressed in white, turn to the altar, where a cloud of incense momentarily dims the gold vestments of the Archbishop. The priests raise their hands in his direction for the prayer of Consecration.
Well, not his direction exactly, but you can tell that a thurifer is doing his job when the celebrant disappears from view ....

Friday 22 May 2009

Archbishop Nichols' homily

Since the announcement that Vincent Nichols would be the next Archbishop of Westminster, some have commented that he would be an Archbishop who would implement the policies of Pope Benedict XVI. Whilst this remark might have been made with reference to internal Church politics, it also has a wider reference.

The homily that Archbishop Nichols preached at the installation Mass would seem to bear out this comment. In my view, at least, the style of the preaching is reminiscent of that adopted by Pope Benedict XVI, starting as it does from the scripture texts of the Mass and then extending to comment on the contemporary situation of the Church. One can also see a Benedictine style in the choice of a votive Mass of St Paul - I wish I had known about this in advance, as I would have prayed a votive office of St Paul at Morning Prayer instead of that of the Holy Spirit that I did in fact pray.

As the following quotations show, the content of the homily reflected on recent controversies affecting the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and took up some themes common in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI.
Faith builds community and it expresses itself in action. As a society, if we are to build on this gift of faith, we must respect its outward expression not only in honouring individual conscience but also in respecting the institutional integrity of the communities of faith in what they bring to public service and to the common good. Only in this way will individuals, families and faith communities become whole-hearted contributors to building the society we rightly seek.

At the heart of Paul's effort in Athens was an appeal to reason. He did not seek to impose his beliefs, nor exploit anxiety or fear. Rather he had learned that his faith in Christ was compatible with the mind's capacity for reasoned thought. Indeed it complemented it. Some today propose that faith and reason are crudely opposed, with the fervour of faith replacing good reason. This reduction of both faith and reason inhibits not only our search for truth but also the possibility of real dialogue. In contrast, as Pope John Paul memorably said: 'Faith and reason are the two wings on which the human spirit soars.' (Fides et Ratio n.1)

This knowledge, which is of love, discloses the true worth of our humanity, our real dignity. This is its supreme advantage. For we human beings are not plasticine figures, to be moulded into shape at the hands of a political ideology, or under economic demands. Nor, at the end of the day, can we shape ourselves as we please, according to fashion or our untutored desires. We are not self-made. Our humanity, thankfully, is more deeply rooted and therefore resilient. Indeed our humanity is a gift to be respected not only from its beginnings to its natural end, but also in the other ethical demands it places on us all. Tragically this humanity is often corrupted and distorted, by the misuse of power, by every evil and disaster.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Physics World: May 2009

Edwin Cartlidge, a regular writer for Physics World, has a two page spread about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the May issue. An idea of the work of the Pontifical Academy can be gained by visiting this page at the Vatican website.

The Physics World article is useful in that it communicates in some way that the Catholic Church does engage with scientific thought. One paragraph tells the story of how work undertaken by the Pontifical Academy on the dangers of nuclear weaponry was subsequently presented to the United Nations in the name of Pope John Paul II. But it is unhelpful in making some rather silly statements.
It is unlikely, though, that the academy is entirely independent of the Pope as it is ultimately there to serve him.
The Academy certainly exists to be of assistance to the Holy See and to the Church as a whole, but to characterise this by the word "serve" is rather strange.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is therefore the only institution within the Church not made up exclusively of Catholics.
I expect that there are other Ponitical Academies that have non-Catholic members; and certainly one of the features of many of the new movements (I think of Focolare and Mothers Prayers as I write this) is their ecumenical engagement.
.. as scientists celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope to do astronomy, the mere existence of the academy shows just how much the Catholic Church's attitude towards science has changed over the centuries.
The Physics World article, only two paragraphs further on, describes the origins of the Pontifical Academy in the Accademia dei Lincei, of which one Galileo was a member. Arthur Koestler's book The Sleepwalkers contains an account of the engagement of the Jesuits at the Roman College in the scientific work arising from the telescope, and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine's familiarity with and understanding of that work. Rather than the Church having an oppositional attitude to the new discoveries of Galileo, she was instead in the thick of the debates and research surrounding them. The Pope received Galileo in audience, and the Roman College gave him an enthusiastic welcome, during a visit to Rome in 1610.

The Physics World article is unfortunate in presenting the work of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences within a hermeneutic of "the Church was anti-scientific and is now struggling to accept science", a hermeneutic that is not supported by historical scholarship.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

European elections

An interesting post here. I have a similar relationship to Catholic papers as I have to television - I don't usually see them - so this has slipped past me completely.

At what point ....

A re-arranging of the furniture in the sanctuary ....Specially made vestments ....Admission by ticket only .....Seating arrangements for 18 Canons, 60 Bishops, 27 Monsignori, 9 Provincials, 3 Deans, and more ....Specially commissioned music for choir, organ, brass and timpani (by a darling of the tradosphere, no less) ...Specially composed fanfares (Colin Mawby) ....Palestrina's Mass Tu es Petrus ....Eight part Venetian motet at the offertory ....The rite adapted from a 15th century rite .... BBC television providing live broadcast ....

Now, some of these things are quite understandable, and practical; and, though readers may not all gain that impression from my posting, I am not un-inclined to splendid liturgy (though I do usually baulk at lace from ankles to armpits!). Sadly, though, I am finding it difficult to feel the identity I would like to feel with the arrangements that are being made for Archbishop Nichols installation at Westminster Cathedral.

Don't get me wrong - I wish Archbishop Nichols all good, and look forward to his time as Archbishop of Westminster. But at what point does it stop being liturgy and start becoming a show?

Sunday 17 May 2009

Pope Benedict XVI: the "green Pope"

According to an article on the Newsweek website, first posted in April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI has earned the title of "green Pope". The article also points out that the Vatican is the first country in the world that can claim to be completely carbon-neutral. Well, OK, as countries go, the Vatican is pretty small. But, nevertheless, the effort to ensure carbon neutrality does say something about the policy of the Vatican.

I have noted before that, when Pope Benedict XVI talks about environmental matters he places the demand of care for the environment in the context of the relationship of createdness that exists between God and the world. An example of this is his address to the curia in December 2008, from which I quote:
Because this intelligent structure proceeds from the same Spirit Creator which has given the spirit to us, it brings with it a task and a responsibility. The ultimate foundation for our responsibility towards the earth rests on our beliefs about creation.
Recalling that all things are made "through the Son" and "in the Spirit", the care that the Christian owes towards the created world gains profoundly Trinitarian and Christological perspectives. One can also reflect on the destiny of the created order, on the notion that the task of the Christian in the world is to take that world and renew it in Christ, who will then present it to the Father at the end of time.

In this context, the homily that I heard at Mass this Sunday is interesting. The full text, that for 17th May 2009, can be heard by following the link "podcasts" here. Life in this world
is only for a time. It isn't an end in itself. We are not made for earth; we have been created for heaven.
I think this observation brings out another aspect of the environmental question. The Christian engages in this question, not because creation is to be valued simply in its own right, but because it should be at the service of the eternal destiny of man. This is brought out further in the homily by its account of the resurrection of the physical body of those who have died.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Pope Benedict in the Holy Land

I have not followed Pope Benedict's visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories as closely as I would have liked. I am sure there is a tremendous richness to be found in his addresses during his visit - as always.

One impression I have gained is that of a special warmth of welcome extended to Pope Benedict by the King and Queen of Jordan. This is reflected in the departure from protocol that I think was involved in their meeting Pope Benedict at the airport. What I found particularly touching was that the King and Queen accompanied Pope Benedict on his visit to the site of the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, something that had not been included in the original programme. Not only did this suggest a particular care in welcoming Pope Benedict; it also suggested something about how the King of Jordan viewed that particular site, on what is now a border between Israeli controlled territory and Jordanian controlled territory. It was the river that Moses did not cross, to enter the promised land; instead Jesus' baptism represents the start of his ministry that brings to reality access to the promised land of heaven. One could perhaps forgive the King of Jordan for being aware during this visit that the land on the opposite side of the river is strictly speaking Jordanian territory, and that a political boundary prevents his crossing it as he should in principle be able to do.

Pope Benedict's address as he left Israel summarises his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is particularly striking in the way Pope Benedict talks about his visit as being that of someone who is a friend both of the Israeli people and of the Palestinian people. This could be reduced to a simple question of political prudence in a delicate situation- the Pope not wanting to be seen to take one side over and against the other - but I do not think that such a reduction does justice to what the Pope went on to say. I suspect that he identified key issues for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, rather than avoiding them, when he went on to say:
Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. ...

One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall....

Expert knowledge of the situation in the Middle East is not necessary in order to add emphases to this quotation to highlight the key issues at stake.

The words immediately preceding this quotation from Pope Benedict's address are, I think, particularly powerful and rule out the possibility of seeing the address as simply an exercise in politics.
Friends enjoy spending time in one another's company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades.

Friday 15 May 2009

Christian friendship

What is the ecclesial role of Catholic blogging? It is easy to see it as being an ability on the part of a blog owner to publish ideas and news without the modification of those ideas and news by the editorial line of another website or print publication, be that modification the result of actual editing or the result of a surrounding context in which the ideas and news are published. As with any web publication of Catholic ideas, blogging can contribute to evangelisation, too - "Google" plays a part in this!

But, in a wider sense, blogging can be seen as being at the service of communion, particularly communion between Catholics, but also communion in its sense as the building of unity among the wider community. Blogging builds communion between those who read a blog and the writer, between those who post comments and the writer. For this reason, I try to treat comments as a means of promoting dialogue. It is also why I post about our days out (here and here, for example) because I think these are a testimony to Christian friendship that can encourage others.

The little magazine Magnificat, which started UK distribution at the end of 2008, includes a meditation for each day. The one for today is entitled "You are my friends", and is taken from Blessed Simon Fidati of Cascia (d. 1348, Augustinian friar renowned for his preaching).
A friend comes to the rescue in time of need, and if he is aware of the truth of friendship, he directs his friend just as if he were himself and puts his own members at his disposal if he has lost his. ... A friend is a lighted coal, and if placed beside it, it can rekindle a dead one. A true friend gives more attention to friendship than to the person with whom he is disposed to be friendly. For indeed the person often disappoints, but the friendship is always the same. ...

Christian friendship is very broad in its generality, for it is extended to all without exception or distinction, and with those with whom one cannot share one's life along the way one hopes rather to achieve this in the fatherland of heaven... For if true friendship is exchanged between God and us, between human beings and angels, between human beings and human beings, true friendship then is love.

[Note to myself: I will do the washing up next time ...]

Thursday 14 May 2009

Why you really should join a trade union (or, it's been one of those weeks)

One of the delightful things about my life is just how varied it is (sorry, should I say, "diverse"?) This week has varied from teaching physics to my AS- and A-level students (the day job, I suppose), to speaking about Frank Duff's understanding of the call to holiness of the lay faithful (he wrote about this in 1916 in terms that are pretty much those of Lumen Gentium), to visiting my ward at the local hospital (I do this as a volunteer with the chaplaincy at the hospital I can see out of my back windows, but don't normally blog about it because of confidentiality issues), to progressing the various bits of case work I currently have in my trade union role (and these are varied enough in themselves at the moment), to helping support the work of my science department with a bit of diplomacy/personnel support, to a meeting with the Chief Executive of our local authority (on a Friday afternoon, of all times).

And the trade union case work just comes down the phone line, pretty much without warning. Most of the situations where I help people are not what one would call "major crisis" situations. They are instead the fairly ordinary issues of working life - difficulties arising from working with colleagues who do things a bit differently, coming back from maternity leave, and the like. Except that for the person involved they are not "ordinary" but things that have a major impact on their working lives.

In many cases, a trade union representative has experience and training that means they can give simple, practical advice that helps to improve a situation for someone. Sometimes it is just advising someone how to raise a matter with their manager - so often a situation is allowed to drift on when it should really be faced up to by a manager and resolved. Sometimes it is just the trade union representative's knowledge of procedures that means they can advise a colleague what to do, how to do it and when to do it. My experience is that trade union members just do not make the use of their representatives that they could in these situations.

And, occasionally, I have come across the situation where the trade union advice and support has been essential. I have no doubt that colleagues who face a disciplinary hearing, for example, without the support of a trade union representative have significantly less chance of a fair outcome. And, particularly in teaching, it is quite easy for a little slip (or a disgruntled pupil or parent) to put someone in such a position.

So you really should join a trade union ....

Now, if there is anyone out there having some trouble over their expenses claims and needing a bit of help ....

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Notre Dame: a matter of testimony of faith

Though there has been widespread comment on the decision of the authorities at Notre Dame University in America to award President Obama an honorary degree, and to have him deliver the commencement address, I have so far not posted anything on the topic.

The Notre Dame episode is not the first one in the last year or so in which the blogs, and Catholic blogs in particular, have engaged in what one might call "internet campaigning". One can perhaps consider the responses to Bishop O'Donoghue's "Fit for Mission" programme in the Diocese of Lancaster, and to his approach to equalities legislation and Catholic adoption agencies (where Catholic blogs have been very supportive: here, here and here and other places, too). And another example, where the blogs were more critical is that of Cherie Blair's invitation to speak at a conference at the Angelicum university in Rome: see here, here, here, here and elsewhere).

Both the positive campaigning and the critical campaigning can be problematical. Some months ago now I heard a comment, in the context of Summorum Pontificum and a diocese that was not Lancaster, but perhaps also applicable to "Fit for Mission" and Lancaster. The comment went roughly along the lines that perhaps 10 priests of the diocese were ecstatic about Summorum Pontificum, another 10 priests were horrifically opposed - but, for the vast majority, it was probably just another piece of paper going across their desks to which they were at best indifferent. It is quite possible that widespread conservative support (that might well be how people perceive it) for "Fit for Mission" from people outside the diocese might have adversely affected the response of what might be called the average priest in the diocese. I do not know, and would be pleased to learn the contrary from those who do know, but I would suggest a certain circumspection on the part of those outside the diocese might not go amiss in order to avoid an unnecessary difficulty. On a similar vein, politicians can very easily spot an orchestrated campaign of support (or criticism) which has a diluting effect on its value (or disvalue) to the recipient. The critical campaigning can become tantamount to cyberbullying, particularly where blog readers are deliberately encouraged to complain to an organisation in which they have no direct stake on a subject or about an event in which they have no direct engagement.

In responding, particularly in an electronic medium, to these sorts of situations a third problem also exists. This might be termed "co-option", and involves a situation where the expressions of support mean that a statement or position adopted by someone associates them with movements or opinions that they would not intend to support. This is an injustice towards the person involved, and the ease of its propagation in the electronic media makes the injustice worse. Commenters on blogs need to take some care about this.

These considerations represent the reasons why I have not posted on this question so far.

1. I do think that it is quite possible for Catholic institutions to invite speakers who are not supportive of Catholic teaching. This is legitimate, in my view, when: (a) the speaker has been invited to contribute an area of expertise, which may well not be related to the area of their opposition to the Church's teaching, but which it is valuable to consider for an issue of concern to the Church; and (b) a context, such as that of an academic conference or study day, exists that demonstrates an engagement in dialogue/debate and not of approbation. I would expect that there are ample precedents for this in the proceedings of Pontifical Academies such as that of the sciences and social sciences. I am aware, too, of speakers from the World Health Organisation taking part in conferences organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral of Health.

2. There is a different situation when a speaker is invited for a prestige event, or is awarded an honour. In such a situation, an element of approbation of the views of the speaker is, at the very least implicit, though probably to a greater or lesser degree explicit. The creation of scandal then ensues, when a Catholic institution is seen as approving a point of view that is opposed to Catholic teaching.

It appears to me that the invitation from Notre Dame to President Obama falls into this latter category. I do not think that that invitation should have been given, and feel able to express that view here. Catholics in America, and those associated with Notre Dame university, have a responsibility to express their views on this matter, too. The most fundamental question for them, though, is less one of "protest" in the political/secular sense, though it will clearly have an aspect of this. It is, more fundamentally, one of witness, of giving a public testimony to their support of Catholic teaching. This seems to me, for example, to be the fundamental meaning of the statements of Catholic bishops in the United States in opposition to Notre Dame's invitation, though it too has political and disciplinary aspects.

In this sense, there are two particular witnesses that I think are worthy of mention.

There is the visit of Fr Frank Pavone to Notre Dame to coincide with the visit of President Obama, described in this video and this post. He will join a number of Notre Dame students who are not going to attend their graduation ceremony. carries details of the student response at Notre Dame itself.

The second witness worthy of mention is Mary Ann Glendon's letter, in which she declines to accept the Laetare Medal at the same ceremony at which President Obama will speak. In my view, this letter, more than anything else, represents a witness of faithfulness to the Church, it is profoundly ecclesial in its spirit.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Frank Duff commenting on television?

This is a little section from a pamphlet Can we be Saints? that Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, wrote in 1916.
The Question of the Newspaper
We are inclined to think it necessary to read the daily papers in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. Let us beware lest they place us in the world's grip. The modern newspaper is so well written, so attractive to the eye, that it tends to become an absorbing taste. It is a tendency of the day to wallow in the daily papers. Endless discussion, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge, a distaste for serious or good literature, loss of power of concentration, faulty memory -- such are the products of those wasted hours during which God's Kingdom could have been so powerfully advanced.

I do not often get to see television. In particular, I do not often get to see television advertising. I get the occasional glimpse of what it is like when I go to the cinema, usually being rather shocked by how "in your face" the advertising before the film is. The other week I got to see an episode of Britains got Talent, and was again surprised by how "episodic" it was - an editing together of short clips to show some of the worst and best, but not by any means a sustained, complete telling of a story. Ah, but that would need some concentration and proper thought on the part of the viewer ...

"... endless discussion, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge ..."? Isn't that television today?

"...loss of power of concentration, faulty memory ..." Aren't these the results of television for many of our young people in school today?

Around the blogs

At Home in My Fathers House carries a report about, and a link to, an article in The Times newspaper, about the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Community are now based near Brentwood, which is just up the road from here.

The Hermeneutic of Continuity has a some "highlights" quotations from Pope Benedict XVI's addresses during the first two days of his visit to the Middle East. The post also points out that Pope Benedict - at 82 years of age - is following a programme that would be exhausting for someone in the prime of their lives! Now, what did Pope Benedict say during the press conference on the flight to Jordan? I haven't seen newspaper coverage of that, but The Times did produce a long-ish report that referred to just about every other perceived media gaffe of the last 12 months ....

Stella Maris has been posting on the significance of veils: here and here. I found these posts interesting because of the way in which they draw on the Eastern rite liturgy, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite - in ways that can be said to enrich our understanding of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. Sadly, as Fr John says in his response to my comment on the first of these posts, most parish priests probably do not know what we are talking about here! I can't remember now where I came across the idea that veiling or covering was a part of an aesthetic of revealing or showing. This certainly has an application to the idea of modesty in human relationships, but it also has an application to understanding how God reveals himself to us - in the Eucharistic species, for example, God is both hidden and revealed.

Red Maria also has an interesting round up of comment on the Strangers into Citizens rally here. Some of her posts immediately before this one also comment on this rally. There seem to me to be two significant aspects of this, now annual, event. Though some describe it as a "demonstration", what might be better described as a rally is preceded by a range of other events. Many Christian churches, and other religions, have services related to the rally. Mass is celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, for example, especially in support of migrant workers, many of whom come from Catholic countries. As I understand the history of the citizens movement from which this event has emerged, Christian churches and other religions have played a big role in them and in their work in local communities. TELCO - The East London Communities Organisation - certainly involved the local Catholic parishes, schools and other Catholic and religious organisations. It is now part of the larger London Citizens organisation. Those who might be a bit uncomfortable with a celebration of Mass in solidarity (a deliberate choice of word on my part) with migrant workers, I think a comparison can be made to the "Masses for the Country" celebrated by Fr Jerzy Popielusko during martial law in Poland.

The second significant aspect is that this rally and the associated campaign is the only context in which issues of immigration and the treatment of migrant workers is discussed without it being in a context of political left and political right, a point made in Red Maria's post. As such, I wonder whether it is in reality a more effective response to the activities of the BNP than the left-aligned anti-fascist campaigning of other organisations?

Some more photos: Forty Hours on Saturday

Saturday 9 May 2009

Pope Benedict XVI in Jordan: blessing the foundation stone of Madaba University

One of the interesting aspects of Pope Benedict's visit to Jordan - and one which I suspect may be missed by much of the media coverage - is the ceremony of blessing of the foundation stone of Madaba University. Vatican Radio's website are carrying the text of the Pope's address at this ceremony, which does, I think, refer to the background of this event and give some insight into that background. The speech of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalam, Fouad Twal, at the same ceremony refers to the provision of schools in Palestine and Jordan by the Catholic Church. It is worth appreciating that another university sponsored by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is ... Bethlehem University. Madaba has been for many years, I think, home to a refugee population from the Palestinian Territories, and it is the work of Catholic agencies in school level education against that background to which Pope Benedict refers in his address.

Both of these universities (I cannot work out whether or not they are recognised as pontifical universities, though I suspect not, despite their ecclesial affiliation) represent a contribution by the Catholic Church to what one might call a "wider field" of education. The articulation of this is very well expressed in Pope Benedict's address, which is, I think, worthy of wider attention for its reference to the role of truth and of moral formation in education.

Friday 8 May 2009

Forty Hours

A couple of photographs from the first day of our Extended Days of Eucharistic Adoration.
At the end of the Mass of Exposition on Thursday evening:

At 5.30 am on Friday morning, towards the end of the over night adoration (I was not - quite - the only person present!):

Monday 4 May 2009

Pastoral care for the LGBT community

I have posted recently on the subject of pastoral work for those who identify themselves as homosexuals. This post included a link to a statement from the Soho Masses Pastoral Council.

There is currently a report, carried at the Ekklesia website, entitled London Catholics celebrate 10 years of gay-affirming Masses. In that report, which announces the 10th Anniversary Mass, the Chair of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council is quoted as follows:
"This is no holy-huddle or gay ghetto! We aim to be the kind of community pictured in the Church's earliest history, truly Catholic and universal, in welcoming a great richness of God's rainbow people where people of all sorts of background are welcomed. The difference is that our LGBT reality is recognised and named" the SMPC's Chairperson, Joe Stanley said.

The celebrant and preacher at that Mass, celebrated on 3rd May 2009, was Canon Pat Browne. the full text of his homily can be found at the Independent Catholic News website. In the light of the above quotation, I found the following paragraph of his homily most interesting:
If we describe each other as humans in this very limited way doesn’t it in some way diminish us? To describe me as a white person, a black person, a straight person, a gay person does not get to the essence of who I really am. In fact it divides the human family into ghettos. I may take great pride in that I belong to a particular group, and there is nothing wrong in that but to lock myself or allow others to confine and define me in terms of one particular group completely misses the mystery and richness of any one human person. It speaks of invisible walls – walls that lock some people in and lock others out. There is much more to the human person than that they are black or white, straight or gay, Christian or non-Christian.

It is ever, ever so subtle .... but is Canon Browne trying to suggest that "gay" (or other similar terms of the LGBT quartet) does not provide an appropriate language to define an essential human identity? This seems to be completely coherent with the statement of Westminster Diocese in December 2007:

Recently there has been a review of the provision that has been provided and, as a result, Mgr. Seamus O’Boyle has been appointed Parish Priest. He will be responsible for ensuringthat all pastoral provision is given with due catechesis and formation according to the mind of the Church. The parish will continue to be sensitive to the pastoral needs of homosexual Catholics.

Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory parish provides a welcome to all and every Mass celebrated at the Church has always, and will continue to be open to all.

Canon Browne goes on to suggest that "Relationship" is what defines our identity, and, in particular, our relationship with God. Slightly more carefully, I would want to suggest that is is our being created for relationship with God that defines our identity; we then fulfil that identity if we live a full relationship with God in the life of the Church. Or we can also fail to fulfil that identity.

But the fundamental question raised here, and with the earlier statement from Soho Masses Pastoral Council, is this:

Do those authorising the pastoral provision at Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory's, and the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, have the same understanding of what they are doing or do they have different understandings?

Sunday 3 May 2009

Walking the Essex countryside

Yesterday, in beautiful sunny weather, Zero and I walked this walk. We parked at Ingatestone Hall, as suggested, and then undertook the 6.5 mile walk. We met one or two people walking their dogs on sections of the walk, but no-one else appeared to be doing the complete walks. The downloadable leaflet is very useful and accurate, making it easy to follow the walk.

The rape had grown tall, and, in places on the walk, was like a yellow sea in which we felt as if we were swimming.

Soon after this we heard a cuckoo. It was definitely a cuckoo, and not a wood pigeon.

This is Ingatestone Hall viewed from the south-east, across the rape field and through the trees. Everything had grown well, because of the rain a week or two ago.

Our lunch stop was just after walking past this scene.

The view while we ate our lunch:

The walk passes through the church yard of St Giles Church, Mountnessing. The Church was locked so we were not able to go inside. In the grave yard are some half dozen Commonwealth War Commission graves. One is that of a leading aircraft man buried in 1942, but the others all dated from the First World War.

And, at the third time of trying (or is it the fourth or fifth?), some shoes that are made for walking!

The drive home diverted via Margaretting, and a visit to the Church of St Margaret of Antioch.

After tea, kindly provided on this occasion by Zero and which undid completely all the good we had done our cholesterol levels in walking, we watched the following on Youtube.

The Inkspots singing The Gypsy and Jools Holland with Jamiroquai singing I'm in the mood for love (though this might be a better video); Vanessa Mae Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Eva Cassidy singing What a wonderful world (though this is perhaps a better video from the musical point of view). This is the link to the Eva Cassidy/Katie Melua duet.

Do we really belong to the same generation?

Child protection - necessary, but not an excuse for unwarranted state intervention

This last week has seen the news that another child known to social services in the London Borough of Haringay has suffered horrific abuse. One should not hide the horrific nature of the abuse itself, and that it is the man who has now been convicted of the offence involved who is primarily responsible for that abuse.

Much of the media comment, however, has centred on the fact that Haringay's social services have, once again, failed to protect a child who was on their "at risk" register, and towards whom therefore the local authority's social service teams had a particular responsibility of care.

Lord Laming conducted an inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000, an inquiry which has led to a complete re-structure of local authority services - the Every Child Matters agenda. These are now structured to have a single Children's Services Department, which includes what were formerly separate Education departments and Children's social work departments (within the social services department of the authority). Local Safeguarding Committees now exist, on which are represented all those likely to have a part in the care of children - health services, education services, police, social workers. The whole intention is to achieve the sort of communication between different agencies that was not there for Victoria Climbie. Local authorities, through their Children's Services departments, now have a statutory responsibility to safeguard children in their areas from abuse.

According to the report on the Timesonline website:
Lord Laming, who conducted an inquiry in to the death of abuse victim Victoria Climbie, eight, in Haringey in 2000, said on Radio 4 it was ‘dispiriting’ that some child protection services were still not working.
There is another side to the new child protection environment. That is what happens when professional staff who work with children, and sometimes parents, face an allegation that turns out to be unfounded. Careers can be blighted, and the confidence of perfectly competent/safe staff and parents destroyed.

1. The structural changes undertaken after the Victoria Climbie inquiry (and I am not suggesting that changes were not necessary) appear to me to have an underlying flaw. The changes have brought into existence a system that applies to all children - including those who may not be on an "at risk" register - by virtue of the obligation placed on local authorities to safeguard children in their areas. But the structures are designed to respond to the situation of children who are at risk. The element of injustice towards those who face an allegation that turns out to be unfounded therefore seems to me to be in-built. This issue is becoming an increasing concern for teacher trade unions, and the associations of other professionals involved in the care of children.

2. An unfortunate effect of the present child protection environment is an erosion of trust. Certainly care has to be taken that the idea of trust is not used to avoid pursuing enquiries when there is a good reason to do so. On the other hand, what also needs to be avoided is the opposite - where suspicion becomes the presumption, not just in casework where it might be justifiable in appropriate circumstances, but in one's general attitude and policy. This element of suspicion is what can lead to unfounded allegations.

3. From the point of view of Catholic social teaching, it is parents who have the first responsibility to care for their children. The allocation of a statutory duty to safeguard all children to the local authority conflicts with this. The role of the local authority should come in to play when there is a need to support parents in fulfilling what is essentially the parents' responsibility; or in situations where the parents are unable to fulfil the responsibility at all, in which case the local authority can quite rightly step in to take on that responsibility completely by taking a child into care. Those more expert in children's social services might know more about this than I do, but my impression is that local authority social services are only really stepping in when they have a statutory duty to do so; they are not able to offer what might be called "non-statutory" support. In this context, I am rather wary of Lord Laming's observation, in the Timesonline report, that:
I believe that the state should become a responsible and effective parent to more children.

To be fair to Lord Laming, he does go on to recognise that this should not mean a swing to an opposite extreme of children being "snatched away" in ever increasing numbers, and he is referring to children identified as being at risk. But it is the relatively easy reference to the state as a parent that I find worrying. I would not like this latest incident, and Lord Laming's remarks, to give a justification to the state taking to itself greater parental responsibility for all children.

4. Running alongside this question of child protection are the questions of Sex and Relationships Education and societal/political attitudes towards marriage. I am not in principle opposed to the provision of Sex and Relationships Education in schools - in the context of Catholic social teaching, this is one aspect of the part that a school can play in collaborating with parents in the education of their children. However, when, in practice, that provision lacks any real choice of programme and resources and becomes a mechanism for imposing in schools one, single form of provision, primarily through the preferential funding and support of a small core of suppliers - then we have an imposition by the state. The state is in effect taking over a responsibility for this area of parenting. I would also want to argue that the duty to safeguard children would be very well served by the promotion and protection of marriage in wider society - and in Sex and Relationships Education in schools. This is not to say that no abuse of children occurs in families where the parents are married, or that I think a couple must stay together where there is domestic violence of one form or another. But the inherent increased stability of most married relationships should help the overall situation. But, of course, this is not on the public agenda. I have yet to see any recognition that these are issues relevant to that of child protection. The provision of contraceptive and abortion advice, and making as easy as possible access to those services, for young people under 16 seems to me a major question for child protection. If the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion is higher for under-16's than for other age ranges, one is entitled to ask about the nature of the guidance being offered to those children, again a question for child protection.

4. Legislation might impose an obligation on local authorities to safeguard all the children in their area. But is this a bit like to trying to say that the sky is green? [Well, for us physicists, there is a phenomenon called the "green flash", but let's leave that aside!] A local authority can try its best, and take actions to help safeguard children in general and respond to individual cases - but is that the obligation to safeguard all children a realisable obligation?

5. Finally! So far as I can see, failings in child protection come down to failings in the work of those involved. And the last week's events seem to suggest that this is the case now as much as it was before the changes following Lord Lamings inquiry into the Victoria Climbie case.

World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life

Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because in the Gospel we here Jesus speak of hmself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheeop. That is why it is the day chosen as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life and the Holy Father has written to us on this day inviting us to pray trustingly to God for thsoe called share in the Good Shepherd's ministry of caring for his flock. Pope Benedict has invited us to celebrate a Year for Priests, beginning on 19th June - the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It is to be dedicated to promoting the spiritual perfection of priests and to recognising more fully the irreplaceable value of priestly ministry at the heart of the Church. The Pope says we should not allow ourselves to become discouraged by accepting as inevitable that a time will come when we have to do without priests. We entrust the whole Church to the providence of God in our prayer for and encouragement of priestly vocations.
This piece has been taken from our parish newsletter this week, and, at first sight, it does not appear as exceptional as it actually is. What does make it exceptional is that nowhere does it refer to planning for a parish without a priest, something that is so often a kind of mantra in the Church here in England and Wales.

500th post - time for a new look