Tuesday 28 July 2009

The priest and the lay apostolate

At our Legion meeting this week, I gave an allocutio about the relationship between priests and the lay faithful in the mission of the Church. This seemed a useful thing to do in the Year for Priests.

I chose the following passage from Vatican II's Decree on the Life and Ministy of Priests as the spiritual reading.

The Lord Jesus, "whom the Father has sent into the world" (Jn 10:36) has made his whole Mystical Body a sharer in the anointing of the Spirit with which he himself is anointed. In him all the faithful are made a holy and royal priesthood; they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ, and they proclaim the perfections of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. Therefore, there is no member who does not have a part in the mission of the whole Body; but each one ought to hallow Jesus in his heart, and in the spirit of prophecy bear witness to Jesus.

The same Lord, however, has established ministers among his faithful to unite them together in one body in which, "not all the members have the same function" (Rom 12:4). These ministers in the society of the faithful are able by the sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins, and they perform their priestly office publicly for men in the name of Christ. Therefore, having sent the apostles just as he himself been sent by the Father, Christ, through the apostles themselves, made their successors, the bishops, sharers in his consecration and mission. The office of their ministry has been handed down, in a lesser degree indeed, to the priests. It is established in the order of the priesthood so that they can be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission entrusted to priests by Christ.

The office of priests, since it is connected with the episcopal order, also, in its own degree, shares the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his Body. Wherefore the priesthood, while indeed it presupposes the sacraments of Christian initiation, is conferred by that special sacrament; through it priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that they can act in the person of Christ the Head.

This is the text for the allocutio. It is perhaps important to appreciate the particular historical context of the Legion of Mary at the time in which Frank Duff spoke, a context which gives some understanding of his emphasis on the dependence of the Legion apostolate on the priest.

In this allocutio, I want to contrast - and then draw together - two different statements about the activity of lay people in the mission of the Church. The first is from Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church and the second from a talk by Frank Duff.

The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself …. The laity, however, are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person, through those gifts given to him, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”.

If the lay person is appointed to the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, then that apostolate is theirs by a right that is their own - and not by delegation or appointment from the Bishop or Priest. So the Code of Canon Law allows that the lay faithful have the right, whether as individuals or by way of membership, establishing and direction of associations, to take action that serves the mission of the Church; and the right to promote and support apostolic action by their own initiative

Frank Duff, on the other hand, writes of the Legion of Mary that it is an “extension of the priest”:

The priest is intended to be Christ in the world in His fullness: Christ the sacrificer, Christ the organiser of the Church, Christ the source of religious knowledge and the main teacher, Christ the converter of nations and the inspirer of men. But Christ’s method of thus fulfilling Himself was to add on to Himself members and through them discharge His functions. Had he not done so, His religion would have died with Him on the Cross….”Members” must have a significance above that of employees or adherents or convenient adjuncts. “Members” must imply a connection and a kinship of function, and of course helpfulness and activity. A true member must be an extension of the priest, attuned to his outlook, throbbing in sympathy. The member must share in the priestly work to the fullest possible extent, that is to the point where the lay function stops, but only there. If the laity is hedged off from the genuine participation in the ordinary pastoral office of the priest, the expression “members” is inappropriate.[3]

The first point to be made in synthesising these two contrasting expressions is that the mission of the priest and the mission of the lay person have a common origin. This is expressed in the first paragraph of our spiritual reading, which applies to both the lay faithful and the ordained priesthood: “there is no member who does not have a part in the mission of the whole Body”.
[4] Through ordination, the priest gains a specification or focussing of that participation in the mission of the Church that the lay person does not. The mission involved, though, is fundamentally the same mission of achieving the holiness of those who are already members of the Church and of evangelising those who are not members of the Church: “each one ought to hallow Jesus in his heart, and in the spirit of prophecy bear witness to Jesus”.

Once this is recognised, one can look “from the outside towards the centre” - and see first the autonomy of the lay mission from that of the priestly mission, and then recognise the fundamental identity of the mission. Or, as does Frank Duff, one can look “from the centre towards the outside” - when the fundamental identity of the mission of the lay person and that of the priest allows one to see the lay mission as extending that of the priest.

The second point to be made in synthesising these two expressions is the obligation for ecclesial communion, or, to express it in its more practical way, that of ecclesial obedience. This does not mean that the lay person only does what he or she is told by the priest; it does not deny to lay people their own rightful initiative. On the other hand, it does mean that the activity undertaken by lay people will always be undertaken in communion with their priests and bishop. So, for example, the Legion of Mary will not work in a diocese without the permission of the bishop and will not establish a praesidium in a parish without the permission of the parish priest.
[5] This obedience is a tangible, and visible manifestation of, the fundamental unity of the mission of the Church, be that the mission undertaken by the lay faithful or the mission undertaken by the priest.

[1] Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium n.33; cf Vatican II Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem n.3; cf Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.898-900; cf Code of Canon Law (1983) c.225
[2] Code of Canon Law (1983) c. 225, cf cc.215-216.
[3] Frank Duff The Priest must have Members. cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.61. There are two historical contexts to this article of Frank Duff’s. One is the difficulty experienced by the Legion in gaining formal recognition from the Archdiocese of Dublin, a difficulty which in part arose from a suspicion of the Legion by priests in the Diocese (cf Leon O Broin Frank Duff: A Biography pp.31 ff). The second context was a restrictive view of what was termed at the time “Catholic Action”. This expected a lay organisation to engage in a more social or political type of apostolate, and led to the Legion with its explicitly evangelising apostolate being excluded from ecclesiastical approval in some countries. This issue was resolved at the Congress of the Lay Apostolate in Rome in 1957, by an intervention of the Pope taken by many to be directed in favour of the Legion of Mary, to which Frank Duff refers in The Priest must have Members.
[4] It is also reflected in the structuring of the treatment of the same topic in the Code of Canon Law (1983). “The obligations and rights of all Christ’s faithful” (cc.208-223) is followed by “The obligations and rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful” (cc.224-231). cf also John Paul II Christifideles Laici n.2.
[5] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.84. This provision is reflected in the constitutions and manner of operation of many of the lay movements in the Church.

Votive office of the Holy Spirit: Ad multos annos

I prayed a votive office this morning for the intentions of Fr Tim, whose ordination anniversary Mass I will be attending later today.

Whilst such a celebration has a human dimension in that it is a celebration of the vocation and priestly life of a particular individual, I think it is also a celebration of the work of our salvation lived out in a particular life and situation (including its ups and downs), and therefore has a universal significance in the Church.

"This day was made by the Lord; we rejoice and are glad!"

Monday 27 July 2009

Tony Blair and Rimini 2009

We are being encouraged to write to the organisers of the annual Rimini meeting, sponsored by the movement Communion and Liberation, to try and get them to stop Tony Blair speaking during the meeting. Now, as a matter of politics I wouldn't write an open letter to someone if I really wanted them to change their mind about something. An open letter is only likely to get the recipients to dig their heels in and hold to their original position, as it removes the option of quiet negotiation. An open letter appears to me to be more addressed to the media and public opinion.

It is interesting to see the subject on which Tony Blair has been invited to speak, as indicated in the draft programme on the Rimini meeting website.
Invited: Tony Blair, President Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Introduced by: Giorgio Vittadini, President Fondazione Sussidiarietà.

During my visit to Canada for the International Eucharistic Congress in June 2008, I recall having two conversations with US and Canadian participants about Tony Blair. They clearly assumed that Tony Blair was a "good thing" from the point of view of Catholicism, and I had to undertake a careful explanation of what it was that made his reception into the Catholic Church an embarrassment for some of us. It is quite possible that many Italians are similarly ill-informed about Tony Blair's past political history and his rather loose approach to Catholic teaching. There might well be some value in educating them in this regard.

But I suspect, based on the extent of their political engagement in Italy, that there are enough people associated with Communion and Liberation who understand only too well where Tony Blair is coming from. I wonder whether he will actually get a comfortable ride in Rimini?

Now, to think about Tony's title. Questions of abortion seem less immediately relevant than those of gay rights, though, of course, the two are not un-connected. It would be quite interesting to compare his view of the relation between individual and state to that of, say, Rocco Buttiglione. Tony Blair has been politically committed to gay advocacy (Information about Ian McKellen's meeting with Tony Blair was first revealed in a Stonewall press release which Christian Institute quote verbatim), and continues to fund raise for gay organisations. All of this, to put it gently, is in tension with his being a Catholic. Rocco Buttiglione was not allowed to go forward as a European Commissioner because of his holding to Catholic teaching on homosexuality - and despite his very careful advocacy of the principle of non-discrimination in the public sphere (see part of this earlier post). I think Communion and Liberation will be very familiar with the debate around those events, and their relevance to Tony Blair's title.

What I wonder is: does Tony really know what he is letting himself in for in agreeing to speak in Rimini? A bit mischieveously, I think I would rather see him roasted in Rimini than have the invitation withdrawn ...

Sunday 26 July 2009

Trafalgar Square: 8 am Sunday 26th July 2009

I duly attended to support Bob Oxtoby on the plinth this morning. The weather was ideal - the sun hadn't really broken through the clouds, but it was bright and there was no hint of rain. Trafalgar Square was rather quieter at that time than it is later in the day.

If you have an hour to spare, you can watch the video here. There is also an explanation of what Bob was trying to represent on the plinth. If you want a highlight, go to the 27 minutes point of the video and watch Bob coping (?) with that new fangled gadget ... the mobile phone.

Something like 10 different people turned up to support Bob, with other family watching on the live video stream. One gentleman had worked with Bob over 30 years ago on a project in India. I managed to see two first cousins once removed (ie they are the generation below me in other branches of the family tree) who I haven't seen for years.

To get an idea of what the plinth is like at 1 am on a Sunday morning, you need to think outside the box. Completely different!

Saturday 25 July 2009

Assisted Suicide

This topic has been much debated on the Letters page of The Times this week, though I have not followed much of it. I did notice a letter on Friday, from the Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals and Marie Curie Hospice, Newcastle.

This seemed to me a well balanced letter, recognising the need for a care that extends beyond just the physical care (relief of symptoms and pain) to include care for the emotional response of patients and a recognition that patients experience is not just a physical experience but also a spiritual (which, in some cases means religious) one. Some patients have significant resources of their own with which to cope with these challenges; but other patients need support and help from others in some or all of them. I was particularly struck by the following paragraph.
... this is just real life. Some people appear to get by easily and meet few difficulties; others encounter difficulties and meet them with success; others need help to manage their difficulties and a few get stuck. As a society, we have developed resources to assist people in difficulty. We have not previously proposed that a useful response to being stuck in a difficult position is to offer premature death as an alternative.

It appears that our advanced, very technological society creates an expectation that no-one should have to face any difficulty or challenge in life at all; whereas, in real life, difficulties may in some situations be eliminated but in others they have to be faced up to and managed.
In parallel with these issues, each person is on a spiritual journey through which they interpret the meaning of their lives. For some this is a religiously based belief, while for others it is about personal worth and contribution to ideals they hold dear, such as family life, care for the environment or world justice. In palliative care we seek to support them in reaching their own inner peace as they measure their triumphs and failings against their own set of ideals.

This paragraph raises another point of interest. If someone does not have a positive valuing of life, or an understanding of life that gives it a positive meaning, then abandoning life for death seems quite natural when presented with a serious difficulty in continuing with life. But a positive meaning for life needs to be proposed before patients become terminally ill, before even they become ill enough to be "patients". This is a general question of culture and life, not just one for during a terminal illness. When they become ill, a patient is then able to live out the meaning that they already recognise in life rather than needing to be educated to give life meaning "at the last moment".

Two aspects were perhaps not fully addressed by the letter. One is that of religious care, which was left to be seen as a particular case of spiritual care. The second is that of basic hydration and nutrition as the end of life approaches and a patient becomes unable to eat or drink themselves.

Today's edition of The Times is dominated by coverage of the Royal College of Nursing's decision to change its opposition to assisted suicide into a position of neutrality. The coverage is almost totally in favour of assisted suicide. Part of that coverage is a case study of a cancer patient. The caption (in the print edition, not used in the online version) to an accompanying photograph reads:
Bob Michell at home in Oxfordshire with a sculpture of his wife Pauline. He believes Pauline, right, craved the peaceful ending they had given her pet dog, Dodger.
So, the measure of how we treat the human person is to be the same as that which we use for an animal. And, though Professor Michell may want us to see it as the animal being treated better, the objective situation is one of reducing human life to the same value as animal life.

Reading the full text of the case study, the following questions come to mind:

How does Professor Michell really know that assisted suicide was "what she craved for herself", and how far is he just guessing?

"But it was still ghastly": how much does this observation exrpess Professor Michell's own experience, and the difficulty that he faced in coming to terms with it, rather than it being his wife's experience (though, of course, she may have found it very difficult too)?

And, very strikingly, notice how significant the present legal position banning assisted suicide was in the decision of Bob Michell and his wife not to undertake an action of assisted suicide; and an action of joint suicide appears to have been deterred by consideration of its family/societal consequences. There should be no illusions here - if the law is changed, those in situations like Mrs Michell's situation will be vulnerable to the wishes of others ...

UNESCO recognises the Christian heritage of Europe?

It being the feast of St James, Apostle, today; and Zero and I having talked from time to time about walking to Compostella ... I thought, in this day of online gaming and the like ... there must, somewhere in the WWW, be a "virtual Way to Compostella" that one can "walk" in cyberspace.

Instead, I found out that, in 1998, UNESCO recognised a number of buildings on the routes through France to Compostella as World Heritage sites. This is the page on the UNESCO website that records this. Most of the buildings are Churches of one form or another - I am not clear that all of them are still used as Churches.

The reason given for the inscription is as follows - the criteria refer to the UNESCO criteria for judging a site to be a World Heritage site:

Justification for Inscription
Criterion ii: The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the later Middle Ages, and this is admirably illustrated by the carefully selected monuments on the routes followed by pilgrims in France.

Criterion iv: The spiritual and physical needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela were met by the development of a number of specialized types of edifice, many of which originated or were further developed on the French sections.

Thus far, one can read the justification in a secular way - a religious phenomenon being assimilated or reduced to that of "cultural exchange and development" and the meeting of "spiritual and physical needs". But it is the last sentence, under criterion vi which is most interesting in recognising the role of Christian faith in the history of Europe. UNESCO's criterion vi reads, with my emphasis on "outstanding universal significance" added:

to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
And the citation for the Route to Santiago:

Criterion vi: The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela bears exceptional witness to the power and influence of Christian faith among people of all classes and countries in Europe during the Middle Ages.

I wonder whether this recognition of a universal significance of Christian faith for the history of Europe will be allowed an expression in European legislation?

Oh, and if you do know where I can find a "virtual Camino", please drop me a note in the Comments Box.

Friday 24 July 2009

John Ryan

John Ryan has died. BBC news report here and Daily Telegraph obituary here. Will Cardinal Grotti attend the funeral?

Castle Blueprint

Those who read the post Progress in Prayer might be interested in this one at St Monica's Kneeler, which contains an outline of the teaching of St Teresa of Avila.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Progress in prayer

Not mine, by the way, as I don't make much.

A few years before the beginning of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff wrote a pamphlet entitled Can we be Saints? His argument was that all of us, including lay people, are called to be saints, and the pamphlet developed this theme along with a practical characterisation of what it meant in daily life. Writing somewhere between 1913 and 1920, Frank Duff pre-dated Vatican II's teaching on the universal call to holiness by some 40 or 50 years. [Aside: it is, I think, easy to see Vatican II's teaching on the universal call to holiness as being more revolutionary than it is in actuality. The explicit articulation, without attachment to a specific spirituality or religious order, might well have been revolutionary; but a writer such as Frank Duff, the existence of "third orders" alongside some religious orders and the promotion of parish based Sodalities can surely be seen as acting as a forerunner of this teaching. It should perhaps be seen within the context of a "hermeneutic of continuity" rather than of discontinuity.]

Frank Duff's writing in this pamphlet was subsequently reflected in the statement of the aims of the Legion of Mary contained in the Handbook:
“The object of the Legion of Mary is the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation, under ecclesiastical guidance, in Mary’s and the Church’s work of crushing the head of the serpent and advancing the reign of Christ.”

This week I had the challenge of trying to present this call to holiness in a practical way to our Legion of Mary praesidium. These are all people who are faithful to Sunday Mass attendance (and, in some cases, weekday Mass attendance) and who pray each day. So what I wanted to do was find a way of presenting the idea of the call to holiness as a call to "making progress" in the life of prayer.

I chose the following as the spiritual reading for the meeting, from Chapter 1 of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life:

To understand what our interior life is in itself and in its various phases, we must consider it not merely in it seed, but in its full and complete development. Now, if we ask the Gospel what our interior life is, it tells us that the life of grace, given to us in Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist, is the seed or germ of eternal life….

It consists in seeing God immediately as He sees Himself, and loving Him as He loves Himself. This is the reason why our Lord can say to you: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’; because you have received a participation in His inner

What, then does our Lord mean when He says: ‘He that believeth in me hath eternal life?’ He means: He that believes in Me with a living faith, that is, with a faith which is united with charity, with the love of God and the love of his neighbour, possesses eternal life already begun. In other words: He who believes in Me has within himself in germ a supernatural life which is fundamentally the same as eternal life. Our spiritual progress cannot tend in the direction of the life of eternity unless it presupposes the seed of it already existing in us, a seed of the same nature as the life towards which we are tending….

Grace, then, is eternal life already begun within us; and this why Christ says: ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say: Behold here or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you’. It is there, hidden within you, like the grain of mustard seed, like the leaven which will cause the whole of the meal to rise, like the treasure hidden in a field, like the source from which gushes a river of water that will never fail…..

The important thing to be noticed is that, just as there is the crisis of puberty, more or less manifest and more or less successfully surpassed, between childhood and adolescence, so in the spiritual life there is an analogous crisis for the transition from the purgative life of beginners to the illuminative life of proficients. This crisis has been described by several great spiritual writers, in particular by Tauler and especially by St John of the Cross, under the name of the passive purgation of the senses, and by Pere Lallement SJ, and several others under the name of the second conversion. Moreover, just as the youth has to pass through a second crisis, that of the first freedom, in order to reach manhood, so in the transition from the illuminative way of the proficients to the true life of union, there is a second spiritual crisis, mentioned byTauler, and described by St John of the Cross under the name of the passive purgation of the spirit. This, likewise, may be called a third conversion, or better, a transformation of the soul.

None has better described these crises which mark the transition from one spiritual period to another than St John of the Cross. It will be noticed that they correspond to the two parts of the human soul, the sensitive and the spiritual. They correspond also to the nature of the divine seed, sanctifying grace, that germ of eternal life which must ever more and more animate all our faculties and inspire all our actions, until the depth of the soul is purged of all egoism and surrendered entirely to God.

St John of the Cross, it is true, describes spiritual progress as it appears especially in contemplatives, and in the most generous among contemplatives, who are striving to reach union with God by the most direct way possible. He therefore shows us what the higher laws of the spiritual life at their maximum of sublimity. But these laws apply in a lesser degree also to many other souls who do not reach so high a state of perfection, but are nevertheless making devoted progress, and not looking back.

I then presented it under the form of the following questions in the allocutio:
Do we have a sense of recognising the life of grace as, firstly, a gift received from God and only secondly as something with which we co-operate and therefore at which we have to make an effort?

Do we have a sense of trying to make progress in the life of prayer, trying to make progress in the life of grace? And, linked to this, do we recognise the different stages in the spiritual life?

1. The beginning or seed: a first conversion to faith in God, characterised by effort and trial on our part

2. The transition to a second stage: we move away from a more physical, material life to one that is more explicitly “of the spirit”; a second conversion in which, rather than encountering God through the material, we come to receive his life directly into our souls; prayer is more clearly experienced as a gift from God, and our essential attitude is one of receptivity and openness to receive Him (in the language of St John of the Cross, a "dark night of the senses", a transition that might be characterised by physical suffering)

3. The transition to direct union with God: we abandon even our spiritual encounter in favour of a complete gift of ourselves to God, a third conversion; we are taken up into his life, in a total abandonment of ourselves to Him; this transition might be characterised by a spiritual suffering, an aridity in prayer (in the language of St John of the Cross, a "dark night of the soul").

I was not able to then develop it fully, but I ended by suggesting that the Rosary is a prayer that could be prayed in ways appropriate to all these different stages in the spiritual life. And that, as Garrigou-Lagrange suggests in the last sentence of the spiritual reading, this perspective is not just restricted to contemplative religious but is something to which we can all aspire in our own particular situations in life.

One observation made during the discussion that our allocutios tend to become was: "What about people who don't know about this, though?" Which is, of course, a very good question. Why should the above not be part of parish or school catechesis? And my own thought, having attempted to do it with at least a reasonable degree of success, was: with due care and attention, it is quite possible to successfully present quite high level catechesis in ordinary parish contexts, and we should not shy away from doing so.

And as I finish writing this post, I am prompted to think about the idea of spiritual development that is now a part of the language of education in the UK. This can be understood in a completely non-religious way; but for schools with a religious designation, and particularly Catholic schools, a religious understanding of spiritual development should be retained. And why should that understanding not be informed by the above?

To plinth or not to plinth ...

English is a living language, so the invention of a new noun "plinther" (plural: "plinthers") can also, I think, mean that there is a new verb: to plinth:

I plinth
you (singular) plinth
he, she or it plinths

we plinth
you (plural) plinth
they plinth.

Or, in the past tense:

I plinthed
you (singular) plinthed
he, she or it plinthed

we plinthed
you (plural) plinthed
they plinthed.

This link gives you an introduction to what this is all about; the live video stream is here.

Of course, St Symeon got there long ago, long before "plinthing" was even thought of.

All of which is a long way round saying that, at 8 am on Sunday morning, I will NOT be on the plinth.... but someone I know will!

At the moment I have only a hearsay account of what his "act" will be, but something about the transition from work to retirement ....

As I write this post, I am watching the video stream. Some hints:

take an umbrella with you - to protect you from the rain or the sun, as both are likely to be hazardous!

if you receive any mobile phone calls while you are plinthing, remember that the plinth is both microphoned and videod (from all angles, and with a zoom function) - so the whole of the WWW will listen to your side of the conversation.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Leszek Kolakowski

Leszek Kolakowski was one of those figures of the dissident world of the Communist era who began as an ardent Marxist and then, without in any sense becoming a religious believer, became disillusioned with Marxism. He then became a leading figure in the opposition to Marxism in Poland, before travelling to the West. He was a fierce critic of those in the West who defended Communist ideology. Kolakowski's obituary in the Daily Telegraph gives quite a good account of his life and writings.

I was particularly struck by the following paragraph from the obituary:
The relationship between freedom and political or religious beliefs, examined in many different contexts, was one of the main themes of Kolakowski's scholarship. The centre of his post-Marxist conceptual universe was the individual – a rational and freely acting subject, aware that there is a spiritual side of life, yet eschewing absolute certainty of either an empirical or transcendental sort: "I do not believe that human culture can ever reach a perfect synthesis of its diversified and incompatible components", he said. "Its very richness is supported by this very incompatibility of its ingredients. And it is the conflict of values, rather than their harmony, that keeps our culture alive."

The notion of a "rational and freely acting subject" has a recognisable echo in the way in which human action is taken as the starting point of the analysis of John Paul II's The Acting Person. The destination of John Paul II's thought, however, will be very different. And, in the context of contemporary Western culture - with its "dictatorship of relativism" - the relationship of individual freedom to political/ideological and religious beliefs gains a new relevance.

The reference in the Daily Telegraph obituary to an essay entitled Theses on Hope and Hopelessness suggests that Kolakowski also has something to offer to the discussion of an idea of "civil society" which exists in a space of freedom between the individual and the state - there must be an influence here of Kolakowski on the writings of Vaclav Havel on a similar theme. This thinking was developed to describe the dissident movements in Communist controlled countries of the time - but it would apply now in a completely different context in countries such as Britain.

Christus versus populum

An interesting post from Catholic Analysis here, which includes an interesting comment from a Lutheran background. It is interesting that, in his graphic showing the versus populum celebration, the lifted Eucharist obscures the face of the priest.

I have already posted on this theme, and received interesting comments on that earlier post. Again, if you read my earlier post, you will see that I was following up a post at Catholic Analysis.

In terms of the direction of prayer, there is a kind of dialogue between seeing it as a facing towards the Lord (in the sense of His second coming "..until he comes again") and in seeing it as an offering to the Father (in which case an upward orientation - expressed in the lifting of the Eucharistic species at the Consecration - may have a certain priority).

Monday 20 July 2009

Feast of St John Vianney

Pope Benedict's wrist ..

I was away from home when Pope Benedict slipped and broke his wrist.

The reports of him waiting his turn in A&E (ER for American readers?), and in X-ray, rather reminded me of an item in the daily bulletin of the Synod of Bishops' meeting on the Eucharist. This took place in October 2005, soon after Pope Benedict's election. Pope Benedict introduced some changes to the way the Synod ran - including, for example, the daily period of "free contributions" when Bishops could have a short slot to raise any points they wanted. He also introduced a daily bulletin which reported the substance of these "free contributions" each day, along with other news of the Synod.

I recall one day when the bulletin recorded apologies from the Holy Father as he would have to leave an hour early at the end of the day - for a dentist's appointment.

Where have we just been?

Saturday 11 July 2009

Caritas in Veritate

I have to congratulate those who have been able to read Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate in its entirety. I am personally having great difficulty in reading more than one paragraph of this great encyclical at a time. Somewhat irreverently, I know, but I am beginning to think of Pope John Paul II as the writer of encyclicals characterised by length, and Pope Benedict XVI as the writer of encyclicals characterised by density.

This morning I managed the first three paragraphs of Chapter 1, as I waited for my breakfast during a break on my way to Maryvale.
The first is that the whole Church, in all her being and acting — when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity — is engaged in promoting integral human development. She has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities: all the energy she brings to the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity is manifested when she is able to operate in a climate of freedom. In not a few cases, that freedom is impeded by prohibitions and persecutions, or it is limited when the Church's public presence is reduced to her charitable activities alone. The second truth is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth; humanity thus loses the courage to be at the service of higher goods, at the service of the great and disinterested initiatives called forth by universal charity.
You come to a paragraph like this and then stop, as you think through its implications. It is doubly interesting to see these two truths being attributed to the teaching of Paul VI, in the light of the Second Vatican Council. And it immediately continues to discuss the inadequacy of trusting only in institutions to achieve the authentic development of mankind. Again, a rich line of thought revealed deftly in a few sentences.

And I just loved n.12, which develops the idea that the Church's social teaching expressed in the teaching of Paul VI is to be read in a "hermeneutic of continuity", and ends with the sentence:

For these reasons, Populorum Progressio, situated within the great current of Tradition, can still speak to us today.

Thursday 9 July 2009

A challenging Word of Life

“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” (Lk 12:33)

This is the Scripture text chosen by the Focolare for the Word of Life for July 2009. The reflection on it was first written by Chiara Lubich for the Word of Life in March 1979. Our group meets each month to read through the reflection on the text, and to share our experiences of it.

The first interesting thing about our discussion last evening was that, only very indirectly, did we refer to the religious life. We read the text, and its reflection, as being addressed to lay people, and to lay people at different stages in their lives. This made it a very challenging Word of Life - it was addressed to us.

The other interesting thing was that, in sharing examples of life experiences relating to this word of life, we listened to stories of lay people known to us who had actually "sold everything" and now lived lives dedicated to serving the Lord (stories from amazingly different backgrounds, by the way).

This made the Word of Life even more challenging - not only is it addressed to lay people like ourselves, but the examples we shared made it clear that it is possible for it to be lived out by lay people in its literal and decisive sense.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

In defence of "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and other hymns

The conception of what is PC tends to completely inverted in the Catholic blogosphere compared to everyday life. In this context, I am afraid that I am completely non-PC.

I use Follow me, follow me as the opening hymn before the Stations of the Cross on the first Sunday afternoon on Lent. This celebration takes place with the young people of the uniformed organistions of the parish - Beavers and Rainbows up to Scouts and Guides. Here are the words:

Follow me, follow me,
leave your home and family,
leave your fishing nets and boats upon the shore.
Leave the seed that you have sown,
leave the crops that you've grown,
leave the people you have known and follow me.

1. The foxes have their holes
and the swallows have their nests,
but the Son of man has no place to lay down.
I do not offer comfort,
I do not offer wealth,
but in me will all happiness be found.

2. If you would follow me,
you must leave old ways behind.
You must take my cross and follow on my path.
You may be far from loved ones,
you may be far from home,
but my Father will welcome you at last.

3. Although I go away
you will never be alone,
for the Spirit will be there to comfort you.
Though all of you may scatter,
each follow his own path,
still the Spirit of love will lead you home.

The meditations for the Stations that follow are then based on the theme of Jesus, the grain of wheat who has been buried and therefore bears much fruit, the Stations of the Cross therefore seen as a way towards the Eucharist. Adapted from the then Cardinal Ratzinger's mediations at the Colosseum in 2005, but I assume that you will have recognised that. At the end of the Stations, we have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance to the altar for a period of Adoration. The hymn sung as we do this is The Servant King:

1. From heav’n you came, helpless babe;
entered our world, Your glory veiled.
Not to be served, but to serve,
And give Your life, that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King.
He calls us now to follow Him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to the Servant King.

2. There in the garden of tears,
My heavy load He chose to bear.
His heart with sorrow was torn,
"Yet not My will but yours", He said

3. Come see His hands and His feet,
The scars that speak of sacrifice.
Hands that flung stars into space,
To cruel nails surrendered.

4. So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him.
Each other's needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we're serving.

It is very powerful, particularly if you can time the singing of the chorus to coincide with the placing of the monstrance on the altar.

Both hymns gain richness because of the context of the Way of the Cross and the Eucharistic presence of Jesus.

I use Shine, Jesus, Shine as the hymn on the Feast of Christ the King. Again, on the Sunday afternoon, we have an event with the youth organisations of the parish. We have a time of Eucharistic Adoration, with a catechesis, and then Evening Prayer of the feast day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I use Shine, Jesus, Shine as the hymn at the start of Evening Prayer.

1. Lord, the light of your love is shining,
in the midst of the darkness, shining;
Jesus, light of the World, shine upon us,
set us free by the truth you now bring us,
Shine on me, shine on me.

Shine, Jesus, shine
fill this land with the Father’s glory;
blaze Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow,
flood the nations with grace and mercy;
send forth your word, Lord,
and let there be light.

2. Lord, I come to Your awesome presence,
from the shadows into Your radiance;
by the blood I may enter Your brightness,
search me, try me,consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.

3. As we gaze on Your kingly brightness,
so our faces display Your likeness,
ever changing from glory to glory;
mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me, shine on me.

Again, the hymn gains a richness from being used in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus.

I also use a Scottish folk melody setting for the Magnificat on both occasions:

1. My soul is filled with joy
as I sing to God my Saviour:
he has looked upon his servant,
he has visited his people.

And holy is his name
through all generations!
Everlasting is his mercy
to the people he has chosen,
and holy is his name!

2. I am lowly as a child,
but I know from this day forward
that my name will be remembered,
for all men will call me blessed.

3. I proclaim the pow’r of God!
He does marvels for his servants;
though he scatters the proud-hearted
and destroys the might of princes.

4. To the hungry he gives food,
sends the rich away empty.
In his mercy he is mindful
of the people he has chosen.

5. In his love he now fulfills
what he promised to our fathers.
I will praise the Lord, my saviour.
Everlastingis his mercy.
I do find an interesting ecumenical significance in the way in which I can use Shine, Jesus, Shine and The Servant King. Both were written by an Evangelical Christian, but have a strong Biblical base. For the writer, I do not think there was any conception that they would be used in the context of Eucharistic Adoration in which I use them. However, I think this is possible because of the faithfulness of the writers to the Biblical text - which means that their incorporation into Catholic worship fulfils their meaning and does not contradict it. It is a question of completion of the in-complete, rather than rejection of the erroneous. This is the principle of seeing the elements of truth in other religious beliefs that underlies an authentic understanding of dialogue.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Celebration according to both forms ... a mission in the Church

I find this a very interesting concept. The website of the Norcia Benedictine community is here. I am particularly struck by the use of the language of "orindary form" and "extraordinary form", which seems to me to genuinely match the intention of Summorum Pontificum. The text cited on Paths of Love is pretty much the complete text from the community's newsletter.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Participation of the lay faithful at the Extraordinary Form

There is a post at Catholic Rights referring to the call for greater participation by the lay faithful in the celebration of Mass - by Pope St Pius X. I think it makes an interesting contribution to the discussion of "mutual enrichment" between the two forms of the Roman Rite - and, indeed, its suggestion could be seen as an example of a "hermeneutic of continuity" in this field. I have vague memories of my Mother referring to the "dialogue Mass" - as a teenager she was a member of the Young Christian Workers, and was probably more in touch with new developments in the Church than was typical of her generation.

The last week of term!

This coming week is the last week of term for my school. Earlier than most schools, because four of our five teacher training days are "commuted" into extended after school sessions spread through the year.

This weekend has therefore been a baking weekend. A lovely smell in the kitchen at the moment. Two rounds of baking, one to take to school and one to have at home, and share with the Word of Life meeting on Wednesday.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Cardinal Newman: where should the beatification ceremony take place?

Fr Peter has an interesting post about the location at which Cardinal Newman's beatification ceremony should take place. Definitely not London!

His case is roughly this: (1) Cardinal Newman spent something like 40 years of his priestly minsitry working for the poor of industrial Birmingham - this should be particularly remembered during the Year for Priests. It was those poor who lined the streets for his funeral. (2) At one point Cardinal Newman declined an invitation to preach to the "learned", observing that "Birmingham people have souls" and that he preferred to decline the invitation. So it would very much reflect Newman's own spirit if he were to be beatified in Birmingham.

How do we define our sexual orientation?

How should you answer a question about your sexual orientation on a form? A useful reflection on this here.

Diluting the faith

I thought this was an interesting reflection on a certain trend that exists for importing non-Catholic elements into the living of Catholic life.

Whilst one can see that other religions have elements of truth that might enrich our understanding and living of our own Catholic faith - there is a subtle difference between making such a recognition and simply importing something into our Catholic life that does not belong there. A careful discernment is needed, to judge what is compatible with Catholic faith and what is not, and then to see the truth that is genuinely illuminated by the encounter with the other religion.

As I write this, I am thinking about the role played by water in different religions. Jewish and Muslim faiths include ritual washings, and a practice of "cleanliness" in readiness for prayer. The Christian faith does have something of the same idea - making the sign of the Cross with holy water as we enter the Church. For Christians, this washing is a sign of the washing away of sin through baptism. What I can see, though, is that reflecting on the role of washing in the other religions leads me to a richer and deeper understanding of the Christian practice - and the relating of it to a Sacrament that really does cleanse us from sin.

The danger, though, could be that we simply see it as being just the same as in the other religions - and our living of our faith is reduced as a result.

Squabbling for the gay vote

I have found it a little amusing to see the Conservatives and Labour squabbling over the gay vote in the last few days. Today it has come to a peak with the competition for photo opportunities and media coverage in connection with the pride march in London.

The squabble seems to have rather begun with David Cameron's apology for Section 28. Seeing the forcefulness of pro-gay advocacy since the repeal of that legislation, I am of the view that it was in fact a very prescient piece of legislation. Admitting to being a supporter of Section 28 is now tantamount to publicly admitting to mortal sin - but I think the suddenness of the political and societal about turn over Section 28 should give cause for careful reflection on the nature of moral discourse in our politics and in our culture. Basically, there doesn't seem to be any - just wholesale pragmatism and the "2+2=5" morality of 1984. The term "dictatorship of relativism" comes to mind.

Gordon Brown's observation that "you can't legislate for love" is, of course, thoroughly superficial in its failure to show any real grasp of the meaning of the term "love" beyond sexual licence.

Sadly, I think that Labour claims that the Conservatives are not really supporters of the gay rights agenda is misplaced. It is the at least tacit complicity of the Conservatives in the gay rights agenda that has enabled "new Labour" to see that agenda through as thoroughly as they have, in the legislative field and in the wider field of culture. In a completely different context, I recall thinking that C P Snow's novel The Corridors of Power showed tremendous political insight by suggesting that it would only be when the political right turned against the holding of nuclear weapons that the left would be able to see through their favoured policy of nuclear disarmament. I have the view that the same consideration applied to the gay agenda - new Labour would not have been able to see it through without support from the political right.

Five minutes with Tony Benn

I was looking for something else, but found this on the BBC news website. What I found interesting was the way in which, early in the interview, Tony Benn identifies the three great moral leaders he met - Gandhi, Tutu and Mandela. I think I might want to disagree in detail about the moral stature of Tutu and Mandela... but I was fascinated that Tony Benn should have identified moral stature as defining what is meant by a great politician.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

An interview with the Cure d'Ars

Interviewer: St John Vianney, you are a very famous Priest. You are the patron saint of parish priests. It is good of you to join us today.

I’m happy to be here.

Interviewer: Please, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born?

I was born near Lyon, in the south of France in 1786.

Interviewer: Were you very close to your family?

Yes. I worked on the family farm, looking after the animals. It was the time of the French Revolution, and priests were not allowed to celebrate Mass. I went to Mass with my parents, in secret, when a priest came to the area. It was a situation that meant we were close to each other.

Interviewer: Were you able to make your first Holy Communion?

Yes, when I was thirteen. The priest said Mass in a barn. We put carriages piled with hay in front of the barn windows, with lookouts, so no-one would see us. It was all very dangerous - not like it is for you today!

Interviewer: Did you always want to be priest?

I told my father that I wanted to be a priest when I was 18 years old. But I had no idea how it could happen. There was no seminary to train priests because of the persecution by the French Revolution.

Interviewer: What difficulties did you face in becoming a priest?

The first problem I faced was the study - I just wasn’t very good at it! I moved to a village nearby to study with the priest there. I hadn’t really been to school much, so it was very hard.

Interviewer: … and the second problem?

Napoleon was now the Emperor of France. I was told I had to join the army, and fight in a war in Spain. A bit by accident, I ended up as a deserter, so I never fought in the war. I had to hide in a mountain village for 14 months. I was only able to return home because of an amnesty, and because my brother volunteered to join the army in my place.

Interviewer: Was that the end of your difficulties?

No. I went to the seminary to continue training to be a priest - we could do this now. But I couldn’t cope with the study! I had to leave at the end of the first term, and go back to studying with Fr Balley in his presbytery.

Interviewer: When were you ordained priest?

12th August 1815, two months after the battle at Waterloo which defeated Napoleon. I was sent to a village called Ars, in the middle of nowhere. Nobody really went to Mass there any more - the French Revolution had seen to that.

Interviewer: What did you do?

I started a campaign to get people to go to Mass on Sunday. During the French Revolution, Sunday wasn’t a special day any more and everyone worked like on any other day. I had to change all this. The people were also involved in heavy drinking and dancing - so I preached against this, too. I preached and I taught catechism. I started a school, and a home for children and young girls.

Interviewer: What about the Sacrament of Confession?

I eventually spent hours every day hearing confessions. It was part of my particular gift to the parish in Ars. On one of my retreats something very funny happened. The people of that town were so keen that I should hear their confessions, and the Church was so crowded with people pushing to reach the confessional... they very nearly tipped the confessional over, with me in it!

Interviewer: And the Blessed Sacrament?

I encouraged my parishioners to go to Mass every day, and to receive Holy Communion every day. This was something else I campaigned on - and quite a few parishioners started to do it. One of my favourite stories is about a farmer in the parish who spent all day in the Church one day - instead of working in the field. When a friend asked him what he had been doing all day, he said: “I look deeply at Him, and He looks deeply at me”. The farmer was talking about his union with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.

Interviewer: Did you ever want to leave Ars?

At one time I did visit nearby villages to give retreats. It was during one of those retreats that I was nearly tipped over in the confessional. I really wanted to be a priest in a monastery, but everyone wanted me to stay in Ars. Near the end of my life, I wanted to move to a nearby house to live a kind of monastic life. I tried leaving during the night - but the parishioners found out, and wouldn’t let me go. By this time I was very popular - and this was the third time that I had tried to leave!

Interviewer: And you died on 4th August 1859, 150 years ago. Thank you John Vianney for joining us today, and sharing the story of your life with us.