Sunday 28 February 2010

Learning from relationships

Mother Maria-Michael's latest reflection can be found here. The title sounds very trendy doesn't it? That coded word "relationships"! Mother writes from the perspective of religious life lived in community. But this reflection illustrates again, I believe, how those of us who live "in the world" can look to those who live the contemplative life as exemplars for the living of the Christian life. As Louis Bouyer would say, the monastic life is the Christian life to which we are all called lived out in its most radical form.

I can recognise the relevance of this reflection to one or two things that happened in my working life this week.

I also wonder if it has some relevance to the comment that has been directed at Catholic bishops and their education services in England and Wales during the last few days.

Catholic Care

joint pastoral letter from the Bishops of Leeds, Middlesbrough and Hallam is being read in the parishes of those dioceses this weekend. The letter talks about a High Court case that will be considered on Wednesday of this week with regard to the adoption work undertaken by Catholic Care in their dioceses.
This [ie equalities legislation] has had the effect that most Catholic adoption agencies, depending on their circumstances, have either closed or transferred their adoption activity to other charities. Neither of these options is acceptable to us or to the Trustees of Catholic Care. Indeed, our position has been widely supported not only within the Catholic Church but also from very many others outside.
Fr Ray comments: "Some bishops are standing up to the Government". This is not untrue - but what seems to me to be more to the point is that the Trustees are making a stand. From the website of Catholic Care I have been able to identify a Governing Body, four members of which are lay people and four clergy, and the Chief Executive Officer, a lay person; I haven't been able to identify the Trustees, and am making an assumption that the Governing Body (trustees?) and Chief Executive have played a major role in the strategy being used. Making the (perhaps dangerous?) assumption that this information is up-to-date, then is the support of lay people for the stand being taken over the future of Catholic Care's adoption work just as important as the support of the Bishops themselves?

UPDATE:  Just to explain that my point here is not to downplay the stand taken by the Bishops involved in any way, or to play it off against that taken by lay people. Rather my point is that, if social action such as that undertaken by Catholic Care is seen as part of the lay vocation in the Church, then it is for lay people to take the responsibility for how that social action is undertaken. Bishops do have a pastoral role with regard to that social action, particularly if it is undertaken in the name of the Church; but they should not take on themselves the responsibility that rightly belongs to the lay people involved. The laity and the Bishops have complementary, yet distinct, offices to fulfil. In the case of Catholic Care, it may well be the case that it is the lay people taking their rightful responsibility - and this enables the stand that is being taken. It looks like this to me, but I can't say it for certain, looking from the outside in.

My own view is that, so far as the situation of the Catholic adoption agencies and Catholic schools are concerned, it is primarily for lay people working in those fields to take the responsibility for deciding where the lines are going to be drawn. Whatever stance is taken at a national or Episcopal level with regard to legislative provisions, it is Catholic lay people in schools who will work out the boundaries of their cooperation, or otherwise, with that legislation. Which is why I have not so far joined in the criticism of our Bishops that has been a feature of Catholic blogs recently. I believe such criticism is missing the essential point which is, in my view, that of whether or not there are sufficient skilled and formed lay people in the individual institutions involved to assure the  effectiveness of their Catholic mission.

An online retreat

House of Prayer describes itself as follows:
"My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." Mk 11:17 This site is intended as a resource for Catholics and other Christians interested in growing spiritually through prayer.
The daily posts are in the Ignatian tradition, and the side bar offers links to guidance in that same tradition. You are encouraged to join them during Lent. To gain an idea, this is the post for Wednesday of last week.

A good contemporary guide on Ignatian spirituality, which keeps its psychological insights within the context of Sacred Scripture, is welcome.

H/T Catholic Analysis.

Friday 26 February 2010

Jessica Hausner's Lourdes: revisited

My arts correspondent (aka Zero - she reads the Times2 before reading the news) has pointed me in the direction of an interview with Jessica Hausner that appeared in Thursday's Times: Lourdes, a pilgrim's dating progress. The occasion for the interview was the Glasgow Film Festival, at which the film was being shown.

This is my own review of the film, written when we saw the film at the London Film Festival. An interview with Jessica Hausner on the site of the Austrian Film Commission, on which I drew for my review, can be found here. The interview in the Times adds some interesting points to my previous posting about this film.

First of all, in the last paragraph, the Times interview discusses the reaction that Catholics might have to the film, suggesting that it took a lot of time and effort to persuade the Church to allow filming within the shrine itself. What will the reaction be to the films ambivalent and occasionally irreverent tone?
“I am curious. I think they might be fine with it. Catholic people know that it is not clear; you have to have doubts in the modern world. I talked to priests who have a lot of doubts — those were some of the most interesting talks. To believe means to look for the belief.” So you are not likely to be excommunicated then when they see it? “I don’t know if I can be, because I am not in the Church any more. Maybe I can be unbaptised.”
I, for one, am more than fine with it. I respect it as a genuine engagement by someone who does not share Catholic belief with the phenomenon of Lourdes (the Times interview reveals that Jessica Hausner lapsed from her strong Catholic faith at about 15 years of age). I found it interesting to read what this interview revealed of Jessica Hausner's own religious history.

Jessica Hausner's first reaction to the numbers of sick people that she saw in Lourdes is, in the context of contemporary attitudes to serious illness, very interesting. She initially found it all "awful ...humiliating, and a little bit obscene". One notable thing about a visit to Lourdes is precisely that sick people who might normally only be encountered in a hospital or nursing home are there, out and about, a part of the normal everyday life of the place. That this is in some way a shock to people is a sad comment on contemporary attitudes to sickness;  but to Jessica Hausner's credit, she seems to have overcome this and gone on to make a film which portrays different aspects of the phenomenon of sickness in a very carefully observed and sympathetic way.

Another aspect of Lourdes that is brought out in the Times interview is the social life of the helpers on the pilgrimages. Jessica describes the night life as "terrific. It's a parallel world to that of the people who are going to die and hope for a resurrection". The way in which Christine gains the attention of one of the male volunteers, pinching him from the girl who was her own allocated helper, forms what one might call a  narrative running through the later parts of the film.

Lourdes is due to be released on 26th March. Another blogger has rounded up remarks about the film.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Thursday is the new Saturday

Delayed post, this one, as my brain has had difficulty working this week.

Saturday last a midwife, an English teacher, two Physics teachers and two teenagers went out walking. We went out on this walk, though the weather and conditions underfoot were a bit different this time.

There was no rape, so this view was now possible where it hadn't been in May. This was just about the point in the walk where we had heard the cuckoo last May.

The Church is that at Buttesbury. Ah, isn't it cute!

Meanwhile, the teenagers nearly got away, as the grown ups set off in hot pursuit!

Can we assume that they were engaged in a deep debate about the meaning of life?

The bright sunshine disguises the fact that it had been freezing overnight, and shady parts of the ground still had a crisp crunch to them. The water in this dyke was still covered by ice, though a physics teachers attempt to be artistic with a photograph wasn't altogether successful.

At this point you have to imagine the bluebells that were here in May.

A fair amount of rain during the previous week ensured that some points of the walk had ample helpings of that delightful phenomenon ... MUD. Somehow, it seemed to attract the teenagers ...

St Giles Church, Mountnessing ....

.... was followed by more MUD as we crossed fields (on the public footpaths, I might add). Eventually, a democratic vote was held as to whether to continue across the fields or take to the road. Needless to say, a tie - 3 votes for each way. Teenagers voting for the MUD, of course. In a true sense of libertarianism, each did there own thing - three ventured through the MUD and three walked the road.

The midwife and the English teacher ... another attempt at an artistic photograph, trying to capture the Mountnessing sign between them.

Next comes the mill at Mountnessing, used at one time for grinding corn.

I think the shadows of the people in this second photograph are quite artistic. Except, perhaps, for the photographers shadow in the bottom right hand corner ......

The clouds apparent in the first of these photographs was a foreshadowing of the heavy rain and sleet that was to arrive within about 30 minutes of this photograph being taken. We had by then made it back to Ingatestone Hall and the cars. In daylight, too, not after spending our last half hour blundering along in the dark.

Ingatestone was only an excuse to be near Margaretting - the next village out along the A12. We did have time, however, to return home to Romford and drive back out again for dinner.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Celebrating Diversity: Coal Hole Cavalry

A song called "Coal Hole Cavalry" has been recorded by the Houghton Weavers (do visit the link to the tour dates, and at least pretend that you know where Pilling is). I have just heard it on Radio 2 as I was eating my tea (Lancashire folk have "dinner" in middle o't day).

This is, of course, written/sung in a version of the English language that might not be familiar to southern folk. So I link here to a Youtube video which shows the lyrics as the verses are sung (slightly different version than the Houghton Weavers original - spot the differences). The Houghton Weavers original - a rather better performance, with an accelerating pace as you move from verse to verse - can be found on Spotify, by entering the title "Coal Hole Cavalry".

Some of the things you need to know about to understand this song: the "knocker up"; clogs and cobbled streets; flags; what a snap tin is; the hooter used to sound the start and end of shifts.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Newman and "conscientious dissent"? ...Er, no ..

A few days ago, I posted By way of a preliminary .. This is the post to which that one was the preliminary. I ended that post by writing:
Acceptance of the teaching contained in the Catechism is, so far as I can see, a necessity for a any realistic dialogue towards unity in the Church.
The question of authority and conscience is one that is raised in a section of the site Vatican II - Voice of the Church. What I would like to do in this post is engage with one of the contributions to that section, an article written by Avery Dulles and published first in 1986. The title of the article is Authority and Conscience.

One of the problems with this article is its use of terms like "infallible teaching", "non-infallible teaching" and "official teaching". The real question to be answered is not so much which of these three descriptions one wishes to apply to the Church's moral teaching in general, or to a particular invidividual teaching amongst the whole. The question is more one of whether or not the teaching is part of the content of the Church's moral doctrine, and proposed as being part of that doctrine; the hazard of the three terms is that they avoid answering this key question in a particular case, and so leave open the possibility of a vagueness about what the Church does or does not teach. This was the significance of my By way of a preliminary ... post, the essential conclusion of which is that it is the Catechism of the Catholic Church that can be considered as the reference point for deciding what is or is not Catholic teaching (the post presents this within a fuller account of the relation of the Catechism to Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium).
Did Vatican II teach the legitimacy of dissent from noninfallible teaching? It did so implicitly by its action, we may say, but not explicitly by its words. The theological commission responsible for paragraph 25 of the Constitution of the Church refused to make any statement, one way or the other, about dissent.

A step beyond the council was taken by the German bishops in a pastoral letter of September 22, 1967, which has been quoted on several occasions by Karl Rahner. This letter recognized that in its effort to apply the gospel to the changing situations of life, the church is obliged to give instructions that have a certain provisionality about them. These instructions, though binding to a certain degree, are subject to error. According to the bishops, dissent may be legitimate provided that three conditions are observed. (1) One must have striven seriously to attach positive value to the teaching in question and to appropriate it personally. (2) One must seriously ponder whether one has the theological expertise to disagree responsibly with ecclesiastical authority. (3) One must examine one's conscience for possible conceit, presumptuousness, or selfishness. Similar principles for conscientious dissent had already been laid down by John Henry Newman in the splendid chapter on Conscience in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874).
Avery Dulles argument in the first paragraph of this section is questionable to say the least. It is difficult to read in the text of n.25 of Lumen Gentium any justification whatsoever for a legitimacy of dissent, even if one does understand it as tacitly speaking in terms of the "infallible", "non-infallible" and "official" distinctions; the text speaks only in terms of assent.

What I would like to give more attention to is the last sentence of the second paragraph (my emphasis added), in which Avery Dulles suggests that Cardinal Newman laid down principles for conscientious dissent. Where Avery Dulles' paragraph contains a fudge is in its move from consideration of "instructions" to consideration of "teachings" - where Cardinal Newman keeps a very clear distinction between matters of teaching and matters of legislation or policy. I think the moral of the story is that, if you really want to understand what Cardinal Newman says about the collision between conscience and Papal authority (and I think we can fairly extend his principle to apply to ecclesial authority as a whole), you need to read the whole of Chapter 5 of the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, and not just the last part of it.
1. First, I am using the word "conscience" in the high sense in which I have already explained it,—not as a fancy or an opinion, but as a dutiful obedience to what claims to be a divine voice, speaking within us; and that this is the view properly to be taken of it, I shall not attempt to prove here, but shall assume it as a first principle.

2. Secondly, I observe that conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. "Conscience," says St. Thomas, "is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil." Hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church's or the Pope's infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.
[A complete treatment of how we manifest our conscience addresses three "moments" - the knowing of what is morally right and wrong which, for a Catholic, arises from knowledge of the teaching of the Church, cf my By way of a preliminary ... post; the mediation of that knowledge to the particular situation now being encountered; and then the "impulse" to act in one way or another. Cardinal Newman here narrows his use of the word conscience to only the second two of these phases.]

3. Next, I observe that, conscience being a practical dictate, a collision is possible between it and the Pope's authority only when the Pope legislates, or gives particular orders, and the like. But a Pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy. [Here Cardinal Newman only admits the possibility of collision between conscience and Papal authority over matters of legislation or policy; the possibility of collision over questions of doctrinal or moral teaching are absolutely ruled out.]
So, when in the extracts quoted on the Vatican II - Voice of the Church website, Cardinal Newman refers to "non-infallible Authority" of the Pope he is not referring to some "non-infallible teaching"; he is referring only to matters of legislation or policy as the cited examples amply demonstrate. You should not read these extracts as a justification for dissent on matters of doctrinal or moral teaching.

 In summary, it is quite incorrect for those who dissent from points of Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching, and campaign for them to be changed, to claim that Cardinal Newman's teaching about conscience justifies such dissent.  And, when Cardinal Newman asserts the priority of conscience, he does not at all mean that we should be deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong, perhaps "taking some note" of the teaching of the magisterium, rather than accepting it as true. He does not extend the freedom of conscience to that first moment of its activity, namely the knowing what is right and wrong, which for the Catholic comes about by knowledge of the teaching of the Church'a magisterium.
In the year in which Cardinal Newman will be beatified, I think it is particularly important to recognise what his real position is on the freedom of conscience. In an era before the "sound-bite" was even thought of, the dear Cardinal seems to have gone in for the "word-bite" in some style and in a way that lends himself to being mis-represented. The last sentence of the chapter on conscience in the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk is a case in point, with it only being possible to understand it properly if you have read ALL of the preceding chapter:
I add one remark. Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please,—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.

Friday 19 February 2010

They're ashes for Ash Wednesday ...

I know not everyone thinks Joe Biden is the bees knees as far as being a Catholic in public life is concerned, but the video in this post at Dolphinarium makes interesting viewing: They're ashes for Ash Wednesday, you twit! I do suggest that you persevere through the video clip to the very end - offer it up for Lent - and enjoy the closing seconds as your reward.

Would you or I have appeared on national television news coverage displaying ashes on our foreheads?

CAFOD: give it up!

Amongst a certain section of the Catholic blogging community, I am afraid the title of this post is going to give the wrong impression of its contents! "Give it up!" is the strap line for CAFOD's fund raising campaign associated with its Lent fast day, not a suggestion for what you should do about CAFOD. The home page of the campaign is here, and a page with a series of videos giving ideas of how to give up something for Lent and donate to CAFOD the money saved or the sponsorship gained, is here. My favourite amongs the videos is the one about converting chocolate into bees. There is a bees nest in the wall of our block of flats which cannot be removed because of protection being given to bees as a result of recent disease causing a decimation in their numbers. But there are times I would quite happily see the back of the bees ...

CAFOD's idea is, of course, a profoundly traditional idea, and pushes two of the three major buttons for Lent, those of self-denial and of almsgiving. Those with a memory will perhaps be a little amused to see the return to "giving something up for Lent", after a certain fashion for "doing something positive instead". Self-denial can, I suspect, take both forms and still retain the character of self-denial - a choice with regard to an action, or a good to which I can justly have access, that requires of me an effort or commitment I might otherwise not make.

In a small way, this campaign also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the value of poverty in the Christian life, and this is can be more easily seen if something is given up. I refer here to a poverty that is chosen as a style of life, not the grinding poverty that is an offence to human dignity and which an organisation such as CAFOD works to overcome. This chosen poverty is an evangelical sign - it is rooted in the Gospel - and it is an eschatological sign - it indicates that our final home is not one here on earth but in heaven. It gives a supernatural dimension to the self-denial and almsgiving that are the most obvious positive points about CAFOD's Lenten campaign.

H/T Madame Evangelista.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Burying the A .....; Burying Christ In Your Heart

A very beautiful reflection for Ash Wednesday given at St Walburga's Abbey: Burying Christ in Your Heart.

As explained in a footnote to the post:
It is monastic tradition to “bury” the Alleluia for the season of Lent as a symbol of this period when the entire Church refrains from singing Alleluia. The Alleluia is “resurrected” on the Solemn Feast of Easter.
Mother's reflection suggests that we see this as a burying of Christ in our own hearts that parallels his descent to hell on Holy Saturday, to rescue our first parents.

General Audience on Ash Wednesday

ZENIT have posted an English text of the address that Pope Bendict XVI gave during his General Audience on Ash Wednesday. Once again, the Holy Father takes what is "given" in the Liturgical texts and offers a reflection that relates them to the living of the Christian life by those who hear his words. In his homily at Mass later in the day (I will link to an English translation when it is available), he did the same with the text of the entrance antiphon. If we put these addresses together with the message for Lent 2010 I think we will arrive at a rich and comprehensive catechesis on the nature of Lent.
The favorable moment and grace of Lent shows us the very spiritual meaning also through the old formula: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return," which the priest pronounces when he places ashes on our head. We are thus remitted to the beginning of human history, when the Lord said to Adam after the original fault: "By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).

Here, the Word of God reminds us of our frailty, including our death, which is the extreme expression of our frailty. In face of the innate fear of the end, and even more so in the context of a culture that in so many ways tends to censure the reality and the human experience of dying, the Lenten liturgy on one hand reminds us of death, inviting us to realism and to wisdom but, on the other hand, it drives us above all to accept and live the unexpected novelty that the Christian faith liberates us from the reality of death itself.

Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but he is precious dust in God's eyes, because God created man for immortality. Thus the liturgical formula "Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return" finds the fullness of its meaning in reference to the new Adam, Christ.

One thing, more of principle than of content, struck me about the General Audience address and the homily. It is their nature as Liturgical catechesis. This is particularly true of the General Audience address, where Pope Benedict gives a clear teaching about the marking with ashes and the accompanying texts that are particular to the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday; and in effect invites his listeners to live that teaching as they participate in the Liturgy on the same day. At one level it represents "useful teaching" about the living of the Christian life; but precisely as a Liturgical catechesis, it also enables us to enter more deeply and consciously into the celebration of the Liturgical sign and into its Biblical context. When we do this, the Liturgy comes to life for us and, if we are thinking in the context of the celebration of Mass on a Sunday, we will want to come again and again to experience it. In the context of Ash Wednesday, we will want to put into practice the sign of the ashes throughout the period of Lent.

It is also interesting to realise that Pope Benedict chooses to reflect on the texts of the Liturgy that he celebrates, that is, the Ordinary Form and not the Extraordinary Form. I was interested by the fact that Pope Benedict chose to reflect on both of the texts that can be used during the imposition of ashes, thereby including that which would be used in the Extraordinary Form. But, in essence, Pope Benedict offers a catechesis on the Ordinary Form.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

By way of a preliminary: what are the reference points of Catholic faith?

The question contained in the title to this post could be worded differently, to ask "What is the 'rule of faith' for Catholics?" This framing of the question, which does not change its essential content, nevertheless makes explicit something that is less clear in the post title. The reference points for the content of Catholic faith are not what one might describe as "optional" for Catholics. They provide a "rule" according to which Catholics are called to live. Framing the question in terms of the "rule of faith" also has an ecumenical implication, and Catholics should perhaps recognise the the Protestant notion of a "rule of faith" is normative in exactly this sort of way.

I posted in 2005, giving an account of one of Pope Benedict XVI's addresses during his visit to Cologne for World Youth Day. It is the address given to Christian leaders, and Pope Benedict argues towards the conclusion that:
“… when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith ….”
One can answer the question being asked in two ways. From a dogmatic point of view, it is possible to turn to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution Dei Verbum n.10, with my emphasis added:
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ....

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
I added my emphasis to try and show that the picture being portrayed in this teaching of the Council is one of an ecclesial life that is lived in obedience to the "rule of faith" defined by the three fold structure of Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. This is essentially what Pope Benedict presents in his address in Cologne, but in the language of Protestant theology, a language which recognises an authoritative character to the idea of a "rule of faith".

From a more experential point of view, one can try to answer the question by asking where it is in the life of the Church (as opposed to just in her dogma) that one can find an authentic expression of this "rule of faith" and therefore a definitive reference point for it. I would like to suggest that this reference point for the "rule of faith" lived in the life of the Church is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum written on the publication of the Cattechism, with my emphasis added:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the kingdom!
Two examples of how the Catechism expresses the living of the "rule of faith" are the following. The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales Curriculum Directory for Religious Education, which defines what should be taught in religious education in Catholic schools in England and Wales, is written in the light of the Catechism and reflects its structure. Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus also defines the Catechism as being the norm of faith to be adhered to by those who might wish to make use of its provisions to be received into the Catholic Church.

What I want to suggest here is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be, and should be, a key reference point for that dialogue for unity in the Church that I have been considering of late.  This post attempts to show that this would be entirely in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and that it can also be a useful contribution to the Church's task with regard to ecumenism. Acceptance of the teaching contained in the Catechism is, so far as I can see, a necessity for a any realistic dialogue towards unity in the Church.

Lent 2010

So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation." Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
I have added an emphasis to St Paul's urging to the Corinthians (in the second reading at Mass for today) to be true to the grace that they have received because of its echo of a passage from Pope Benedict XVI's message for Lent 2010 (emphasis alsoa added):
So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected. Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.

Monday 15 February 2010

Civic Mass and anti-Catholic protest

On Sunday, a collection of gay, secularist and humanist groups took part in a march in London opposing the involvement of the Catholic Church in the public life of Europe. The march began at Westminster Cathedral and ended with a rally outside the Italian Embassy. Since all the sponsoring groups support causes that are opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church, one can perhaps put this protest into some sort of context with the observation that it represents "opponents of Catholicism protesting against Catholicism", a kind of mirror to the "Pope is Catholic". It is the second year that this protest has taken place, and it supports a similar march that is held in Rome. I have not been able to gain any idea from the media of how well  this protest was supported.

But only three hours before this protest, Liverpool Cathedral hosted a "civic Mass", attended by politicians and civic leaders of the city, and at which the Archbishop of Westminster preached. The press release for this event can be found on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference, and it includes a link to the full text of the homily. There is a report, and one or two photographs, on the Liverpool Archdiocese website: Work for the good of all.
Public debate in our society today is often strident. Organisers are on the look out for participants who not only profoundly disagree but who are also prepared to be dismissive and disparaging about each another. It is supposed to ‘spice up’ the debate, but I suspect it simply reveals the fact that often such debates are planned as a type of entertainment.

Yet serious differences do exist, not least about faith in God. There are some voices who do not hesitate to speak of faith, such as we celebrate here today, as a delusion, as a sign of childish immaturity, as an abandonment of reason and as a source of great wrong doing. Not surprisingly they wish to see religious faith banished from public places.

Our presence together here this morning indicates that this is not a view that we hold. Yet we have to have it in mind, even as we celebrate this Mass, attentive to the Word of God that has just been proclaimed to us and here too we must be aware of these differences and divisions.
Archbishop Nichols went on to talk about how the Catholic faith can offer a response to the lack of hope, the sense of disillusion and inability to be effective in the crises of our society. The point of this to those who do not share religious faith is that, though they might not share the religious basis, they can share in the idea of a vision of life that offers hope and effectiveness in society. To exclude this creates the situation that Pope Benedict referred to in his recent address to the English and Welsh bishops during their ad limina visit. When religious freedom is undermined, so is the freedom of all people.

Sunday 14 February 2010

No Greater Love

H/T to Bridges and Tangents for notice of No Greater Love, a kind of London version of Into Great Silence. The website of the film is here, and is worth visiting.

I intend exploring the film's site more, but started by downloading and reading the Press kit. This contains an interview with the film's director, and, if you scroll down to the end, an outline of Carmelite history and of the monastery at Notting Hill Gate. The glossary gives a generally good account of aspects of Catholic and Carmelite life, but is disappointing (the only point at which it is disappointing, I should add) in its failure to effectively present the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

There are parallels to the story of how Into Great Silence was made - and the film's distributors, Soda Pictures, also distributed Into Great Silence.

The film has been shown at Festivals, and is due for general release in April. Bridges and Tangents writes, having seen a pre-release screening:
The final shot was breathtaking. Only at the very end, after following the sisters within the confines of the monastery walls for what amounted to a year, did the director use an aerial shot and pan back from the monastery to the surrounding streets and housing estates — and to the whole of west London. You realised that this monastery, so hidden away and unacknowledged, is truly part of the beating heart of London.
At a time when the Catholic Church is subject to so much criticism, the appearance of a film such as this can only be a good thing. I am, of course, fascinated by the willingness of film makers to engage with a subject such as this, and look forward to seeing the film in the cinema, before I get the DVD.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Evangelical "complicity": the sick person and the priest

The central celebration of the World Day for the Sick on Thursday of this week took place in the Vatican Basilica, and it was a part of a three day meeting of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, a meeting held to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of that Pontifical Council.

ZENIT have posted the text of Pope Benedict XVI's homily at Mass celebrated in the Vatican Basilica. Though I offer below two paragraphs that particularly caught my attention, do follow the link and read the whole homily.
The Gospels, in the synthetic descriptions of the brief but intense public life of Jesus, attest that he proclaimed the Word and healed the sick, sign par excellence of the closeness of the Kingdom of God. For example, Matthew writes: "And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Matthew 4:23; cf 9:35). The Church, which has been entrusted with the task of prolonging the mission of Christ in space and time, cannot neglect these two essential works: evangelization and care of the sick in body and spirit. God, in fact, wishes to heal the whole man, and in the Gospel the healing of the body is a sign of a more profound healing, which is the remission of sins (cf Mark 2:1-12).
I was interested to see, in this opening paragraph of the Pope's homily, a link between the mission to care for the sick and evangelisation. Indeed, one can see the mission to care for the sick as a part of the process of evangelisation, particularly that "first stage" in evangelisation that is "presence in charity" (cf Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi and the Congregation for Clergy's General Directory for Catechesis). Clearly, prosleytism or the explicit seeking of conversion is quite inappropriate during the visiting of the sick, but such visiting can still be seen in a relation to the wider Church's mission of evangelisation.
From this text [the letter of St James], which contains the foundation and practice of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, is extracted at the same time a vision of the role of the sick in the Church: An active role as it "provokes," so to speak, prayer made with faith. "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church." In this Year for Priests, I wish to stress the bond between the sick and priests, a sort of alliance, of evangelical "complicity". Both have a task: The sick person must "call" the presbyters, and they must respond, to bring upon the experience of sickness the presence and action of the Risen One and of his Spirit. And here we can see all the importance of the pastoral care of the sick, the value of which is truly incalculable, because of the immense good it does in the first place to the sick person and to the priest himself, but also to relatives, to friends, to the community and, through hidden and unknown ways, to the whole Church and to the world. In fact, when the Word of God speaks of healing, of salvation, of the health of the sick, it understands these concepts in an integral sense, never separating soul and body: A sick person cured by Christ's prayer, through the Church, is a joy on earth and in heaven, a first fruit of eternal life.

Implicit in this passage is, I think, a reference to the role of lay people in visiting the sick. The lay person can act as an intermediary, an opportunity for the sick person to invite the priest to visit and confer the sacrament of the sick, in a situation where the priest might not gain an access because of lack of time or because the person who is sick has been away from the Church for some time. The lay visitor can enable the "calling" by the person who is sick. Frank Duff wrote about the role of members of the Legion of Mary as extending the role of the priest, and this idea of the lay person as extending the reach of the priest has an application in the visiting of the sick. The spreading effects of the pastoral care for the sick person described in the penultimate sentence of this paragraph reflect the "presence of charity" element of evangelisation I referred to above.

Friday 12 February 2010

Implementing the Second Vatican Council

I am old enough to have been alive, though below the age of reason, at the time of the Second Vatican Council. (Some probably think I am still below the age of reason, but let's not go there!) This means that I am of a generation that missed out on a direct experience of some of the expectations that arose around the events of the Council itself, but who have lived our entire Catholic lives in the post-conciliar environment.

For this reason, one aspect of the dialogue for unity in the Church is that of trying to enter in to, and understand, the expectations with which some went into the Second Vatican Council. I think one does need, simply as a matter of historical precision, to draw a distinction between the expectations of these participants in the Council and in its surrounding events, and what one might term the phenomenon of the Council in itself. But, nevertheless, trying to understand those expectations is part of the dialogue that needs to take place with regard to the Council. This is why I have included in my links list under this heading the site Vatican II - Voice of the Church. I think there are two strengths to this site in the engagement in dialogue. The first is its inclusion of original documentation, not just linking to the texts of the Council documents, but including what might be considered original testimony of the expectations of some associated with the Council. The second is its particular, though not exclusive, focus on the life and contribution of Bishop B C Butler, who I think is worth understanding as a representative of the expectations with which some approached the Council.

There is, of course, another side to the question of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. For the Catholic generation to which I belong that side is perhaps primarily represented by the figure of Pope John Paul II, whose pontificate we would characterise as a work of implementing the Council, and whose pontificate occupies the majority of our adult Catholic lives. I have therefore including a link to Amazon's review of his Sources of Renewal in the links under this heading.

One of the things that I would like to encourage is a conversation between these two sides of the question of the implementation of the Council. On the one hand, unity will not be promoted by the instant dismissal of those who are still trying to live the expectations, perhaps partial and misguided, of the Conciliar times; and, from the other side of the debate, unity will not be promoted by the instant dismissal of the lives and work of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as some sort of rejection of the Council. A genuine conversation is needed.

[I have, of course,  left a gap in this post with regard to the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. I hope to sort that out soon.]

Thursday 11 February 2010

Dialogue for unity in the Church

I have for some time now been wanting to review the list of blogs to which I have links. At the same time, the recent launch of "Stand up for Vatican II", and the attendant controversy, has prompted thoughts on what the implementation of the Second Vatican Council might mean some 45 years on. Other events in the Church have also prompted a reflection on the mission for unity in the Church - Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter from Pope Benedict XVI, and more recently Anglicanorum Coetibus.

I have also been reflecting on the nature of that virtual world that it is the blogosphere. The Catholic blogosphere has by and large been dominated by blogs of a traditionalist or conservative inclination, forming what I have termed the "tradosphere". But if the Catholic blogs are seen as being at the service of the mission of the Church, then they are at the service of communion. This service to communion is lived out through the element of dialogue that can be, but is not always, a part of the blogging phenomenon. If this dialogue is really to be part of the Catholic blogosphere, it will not be served by traditionalist/conservative blogs that only speak with each other, and a kind of parallel universe of liberal/dissenting blogs that again only speak with each other. A certain intersection of the "tradosphere" and the "trendosphere" is needed. It is this thought that has prompted me to include in my revised blogs list blogs that some visitors might find surprising.

So, what are the specific factors that I have used in deciding what to include in my blogs and links lists?

1. Consideration of what is meant by the authentic implementation of the Second Vatican Council, trying to understand the expectations of those who have an experience of those times in the life of the Church.
2. An authentic understanding of the thought of John Henry Newman, partly because of his impending beatification and partly because of how some use his thought to support interpretations of the Second Vatican Council of doubtful authenticity. His notions of conscience and of the development of doctrine are particularly relevant here.
3. I have wanted to exclude journalistic or politically motivated dissent from the Church's teaching, not so much from the point of view of censorship, but from the point of view that such dissent does not offer real opportunity for dialogue. I have tried to include intelligent articulation of liberal/progressive points of view because, though I might disagree with the views it expresses, there is a real possibility for dialogue. Distinguishing between these two is not easy, so there may be some inclusions that do not meet my intentions perfectly.

This represents a wish to use this blog for the promotion of a dialogue for unity in the Church, as well as for its wider purpose of providing a Catholic commentary on things in general. My school half term gives me a bit more time to implement the full review of my blog and site links, so for the next few days this will be a "work in progress". While that is the case, the blog and site links will probably look a bit odd and mixed up. Bear with me until it is finished!

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Some updates on film reviews

Back in October 2009, I posted a review of Jessica Hausner's film, Lourdes. A disabled person who has just seen the film has sent a comment to that review, that I have just added to the post. You might find it interesting to read the way in which they have reacted to the film. It is particularly interesting that they notice the closing scene as Christine returns to her wheelchair, and the part played by Christine's room-mate earlier in the film.

And Francis has directed me to another review of Up in the Air. I think this review is more "socially conscious" than mine was.

Monday 8 February 2010


The Times publish from time to time articles about walks in different parts of the country. The walk at Bradwell-on-Sea can be found on their website. So, on Sunday, Zero and I set off to investigate what turns out to be a place in the middle of nowhere. Well, not in the middle of nowhere - it is at the far end of nowhere, and then a bit beyond.

We started off by driving to Burnham-on-Crouch to catch 11.15 am Mass. Approaching Danbury, Zero recalled hearing during the week the quite shocking news that some 63% of men have never bought flowers for their wives. Apart from the fact that I don't meet the latter qualifying condition, I breathed a sigh of relief ... I have done the buying flowers bit. Phew!

The photograph shows St Cuthbert's Catholic Church, Burnham-on-Crouch, where we went to Mass. The parish priest serves this parish and that at Malden - with the whole of the Dengie peninsula (I hadn't heard of it either, until yesterday) as his parish. I think he is what you would call a "country parson", with a flock scattered across a wide area of Essex villages.

After Mass and a tea break, we drove on to Bradwell. Now, Southminster probably marks the edge of civilisation. Trains do get there - out from London Liverpool Street. But Southminster is where they stop. After that you really are in the lanes, white wooden road signs and country churches that could be the early 19th century rather than the 21st century.

Six miles, at three miles an hour, over flat land, starting off at 2.15 pm, safely back to the car at 4.15, perhaps 4.30 pm at a push. Still in daylight, even at this time of year. Not a bit of it. We arrived back at the car at 5.45 pm having walked the last half mile or so in the descending gloom of darkness. The weather was cold and damp, but the rain held off while we actually walked. This was so far towards the edge of nowhere that it really was quiet - you could hear the gentle waves of the sea and the sound of the birds.

Highlight 1: Bradwell nuclear power station.

Bradwell's nuclear power station, in the process of being de-commissioned. The upper picture shows the sign at the entrance to the power station site and the concrete runway left over from the wartime airfield that used to exist there. I didn't realise there was an airfield, with a memorial, there until I got back home. The Times should have perhaps included it in their walking route, though we walked for a short time along one of the roadways of the airfield. The lower picture shows more the view that we had of the power station, from the beach as we walked past it. Monstrosity was Zero's "word of the day" to describe it.

Highlight 2: St Peter at the Wall

This Church is as much in the middle of nowhere on the coast, overlooking a marsh and looking out to the North Sea as the pictures suggest. My photo from inside looking out through the door faces inland across the farm land that surrounds the chapel. The chapel does have its own official website, so you can go there to find out more about its history.

After getting petrol on the way home, Zero asked me what I thought of the Eagles. I didn't get away with "before my time", as Zero pitched to me the observation that they still played the O2 arena and the like. Desperate not to place myself back among the 63%, I duly checked whether or not this was a "buying flowers for wives" moment ... "It's much nicer to go with someone", was the reply. Now, what have I let myself in for?

.... for dinner on the way home!

Sunday 7 February 2010

A Contemplative's Duty to the World

Having reflected a little while ago about what the monastic life might have to offer by way of insights into the Christian life lived actively in the world, I am happy to link to this post at the Abbey of St Walburga: A Contemplative's Duty to the World.

It also enables me to mark the Day of prayer for Consecrated Life - the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple - albeit belatedly!

Saturday 6 February 2010

Preparing for First Holy Communion

I recently came across - and not by any means for the first time - an approach to first communion catechesis focussed on the Eucharist as a "special meal". Now, I can see how the idea of analogy (both in its theological/philosophical sense and in its pedagogical sense) can justify the approach described below, in which we move from our every day understanding of meals towards an understanding of the Eucharist as "heavenly banquet". Except that you will notice in the presentation below - quoted verbatim - the analogy isn't actually followed through to anywhere near that level. To follow it through would also need an implementation of that aspect of the philosophical/theological idea of analogy that expresses the difference from the analogue to the reality. It could be done, if one wanted, but I think experience of the practice of this style of catechesis is that it isn't.
This second topic Meals is the centre and heart of the R.E. programme, Here I Am. Your child(ren) will begin to recognise how meals are a special way of sharing life together. That will help them understand how the Mass is Jesus’ special meal which is shared by the parish family. In the Eucharist, (a word that means thanksgiving and is another way of speaking about the Mass), Jesus shared his life and love with us. He is the bread of our life.

Help at home

When you are at Mass ask your child(ren) if they notice the signs that they are at a very special meal, e.g. table, candles, etc. Help them to pay special attention to the Consecration at Mass and encourage them to say a special thank you prayer for the gift of Jesus whom they receive at Mass, e.g. Jesus I love you and thank you very much for giving me yourself in Holy Communion
In this context, I was very interested in this post at In hoc signo vinces. I have for some time thought that there is another reason for the inadequacy of this "special meal" approach to catechesis on the Eucharist. When one reads books like Louis Bouyer's Eucharist or the same authors Life and Liturgy, which study the historical origins of the Church's liturgy in the different rites of the Church, it becomes apparent that the structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy - the prayers, use of Scripture, etc - can be traced back to the liturgy of the Jewish synagogue and temple, and to the texts of both Old and New Testaments. Even the notion of the "assembly" as the gathering of the people to worship God, and just possibly open to analogy of the "special meal", has its comparators in several Old Testament accounts of the calling together of the Jewish people to hear the word of God spoken to them and then to respond in offering sacrifice. These accounts, as presented in Life and Liturgy, really do not bear the interpretation that would be given to them in the "special meal" approach.  

The implication of all this for catechesis is that the analogical approach that is going to be taken needs to be true to the Scriptural/Judaic origins of the form of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The "special meal" is, in this context, a totally incorrect analogy to use; it is not an analogy that is actually true to the original, to the sources of the Eucharistic liturgy; it is not an analogy that actually works.

This is why the following part of the post at In hoc signo vinces particularly caught my attention:
Sir Mark (as he now is) goes through the bible taking themes relevant to the Mass (sacrfice, covenant, salvation, expiation, incarnation) and expounding on them in an intelligent way. After each of our sessions, it's quite clear the lad gets it and can ask and answer questions about it with ease.
This approach seems to me to offer a much more appropriate catecehetical approach, an approach that is more genuinely analogical.
[Amette Ley also has an interesting approach to seeing the Eucharist as meal - it is food for the life of grace in our souls - as part of an "On the Spot" article in the July-September 2009 issue of The Sower.]

Friday 5 February 2010

Blessing for a computer

I rather liked this, over at Lord, I believe ...

The exasperating Tablet

The editorial in this week's edition of the Tablet is classic Tablet. It does, in effect, call for the Catholic Church to change its teaching on homosexuality, but doesn't exactly say that. And it does claim Cardinal Hume and Pope Benedict in support of that call, but of course implies it or hints at it rather than actually saying it. And neither of them, of course, would really countenance any such change.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales did not experience first-hand the super-heated reaction of the mass media... the Church must take seriously, and ponder deeply, the underlying reasons for this week’s furore. It is a pity the bishops missed it.

Not true. I heard Archbishop Nichols interviewed on the Today programme - by telephone from Rome - on the same morning as the furore was at its height. He performed brilliantly, IMHO. The nervousness in his voice was quite noticeable; but what he said and how he said it was superb. I think the Bishops certainly experienced the furore, and Archbishop Nichols showed in his short interview that he understood the issues being raised by the media coverage.

The focal point of this reflection needs to be the Catholic attitude to homosexuality...
Ah, the ambivalence of that word "attitude", with its suggestion of changeability, and how different would this sentence read if it were replaced by the word "teaching". And how easily an attitude to "homosexuality" morphs, in the mind of the reader, into an attitude, a hostile one, to people who are gay.
What gay Catholics say is that it is not so much the Church’s disapproval of their sexual activity that hurts and damages them, as its inability to comprehend and value their emotional lives, their relationships. The deepest human desire of all is to love and be loved. Many have found that desire realised in one other person of the same gender as themselves.
Now, look at those two uses of the word "desire", and recognise how the editorial would like us to read them both univocally, in the same sense; and that's before we explore the meaning of the word "love", deliberately ambivalent, in this context. Yes, every person has a vocation to love and to be loved or, to express it another way, to live in a community (wide sense) with their fellow men and women; in that sense they have a desire (St Thomas would use the word "inclination") to love and be loved as a matter of objective constitution of the human person. But the second "desire", the subjective one of an individual person, might or might not be in accord with the objective one that is rooted in the truth of the person. And the editorial's ambivalence in its use of the word "desire" makes it sound as if it is arguing in accord with a personalist principle when, in fact, it is denying it. It sounds very important and authoritative - but verges on the directly dishonest.
Fifteen years ago, the late Cardinal Basil Hume issued a ground-breaking statement of impeccable orthodoxy which included the passage: “In whatever context it arises, and always respecting the appropriate manner of its expression, love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected … When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. To love another is in fact to reach out to God, who shares his lovableness with the one we love.”

And elsewhere he said that just because two men or two women love each other does not mean they have to be assumed to be in a sexual relationship – which suggests that even being in a civil partnership does not necessarily imply defiance of church teaching on sexual activity.
Those oh so critical words - "and always respecting the appropriate manner of its expression". Don't they mean that Cardinal Hume assumes that, be it in a heterosexual or a homosexual context, the Church's teaching is being obeyed? And, yes, a same sex couple do not have to be assumed to be sexually active - but that should not hide the likelihood that, particularly if they have entered into a civil partnership, they are going to be sexually active. To achieve the love being referred to by Cardinal Hume, should not the same sex couple also publicly profess their celibacy?
There is also a context supplied by the present Pope, in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. He asks, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, “Doesn’t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?” His subject is eros, and the task he sets himself is the reintegration of erotic love into Christian spirituality ...
In context, Pope Benedict asks these questions, not because he approves of the criticism of the Church that they express, and certainly not because he thinks they have a specific application to the situation of homosexuals, but because in the subsequent paragraphs of his encyclical he is going to answer it. And a key theme of those next paragraphs is the "purification" of eros in "agape", and the specific and exclusive development of love lies in this process of maturation and purification :
Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or “poisoning” eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur. [Deus Caritas Est n.5, cf also n.6].
To try and imply a support of Cardinal Hume and Pope Benedict for the thesis of the Tablet editorial is misleading, if not dishonest.

Let's recognise dissent for what it is; it is not a reasoned contribution to a debate.

"God loves you immensely"

This is the title of an article in the February 2010 issue of New City magazine. This is the magazine of the Focolare movement in this country.

In this article, the writer looks back to an encounter that forms a particular part of the founding charism of the Focolare, the understanding of God as love.
Speaking of the origins of the Focolare Movement, Chiara [Lubich] includes a well-known episode in which she describes her first encounter with God-Love. The story is set in 1943 when, as a very young teacher, she was approached by a priest who, according to the customs of the times, asked her if she would offer up an hour of her daily work for his inentions. "Why not the whole day?" replied Chiara. Touched by her great generosity, the priest blessed her, saying, "Remember that God loves you immensely".
Offering an hour of your days work for the intentions of your parish priest. A nice thought for the Year for Priests.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

£27 647 per annum - is this the value of a person suffering from dementia?

As I was going out to work this morning, I caught coverage on BBC Radio 4's Today programme of a report relating to the number of people suffering from dementia in the UK and to the economic cost that that imposes on society. The BBC news website has its report of the research here. Like the Today programme package, this report focusses on facts and figures, and, as far as the figures go, mostly monetary ones.

As I was listening this morning, something made me feel a bit uncomfortable and it took me a little while to work out what it was. At one level, it is not at all wrong to be discussing the question of dementia sufferers in terms of the financial costs of caring for them. Discussion in such terms is important as part of how society, (through the NHS, through the pension or benefits system, through the mechanisms of civil society, and so on) sets about planning its provision for dementia sufferers.
Every dementia patient, they found, costs the economy £27,647 each year.
But I think we do need to be aware of an implicit valuing hidden in a phrase like this one. "Costs the economy" ... doesn't this suggest that in some way a loss has taken place? "The economy spends £27 647 each year caring for each dementia patient". Or better: "The economy invests £27 647 each year in the care for each dementia patient".  I would suggest that these different wordings to describe essentially the same quantitative fact do carry with them a different implicit valuing.

But, just before I went out through the door, I realised more clearly what was making me feel a bit uncomfortable. It was the valuing of a human person only - and in the context of the Today programme package and the BBC news website package, the word "only" is quite accurate - only in terms of the financial cost to the economy of their care or the financial investment in research into the medical condition from which they suffer.

Our valuing of people who are suffering from dementia should have another part to it, that is not mentioned at all in this reporting. And this is our valuing of them as persons. They are people who are worthy of our care, and not people deserving of abandonment. The financial investment in their care (or, if you like, the cost to the economy of their care) is at the service of a higher value - the value of the person cared for precisely as a human person, able to love and to be loved, and deserving of our care. If this is lost sight of - and in the media discussion that I heard this morning, it was entirely invisible - then we open the way to euthanasia for those suffering from dementia.

This is not just a theoretical discussion for me as I do, from time to time, meet people who are suffering from dementia. I often do not know them well enough to be able to connect to anything in their earlier life, and so find it very difficult to communicate successfully with them, a certain amount of confusion and muddle resulting. But I do think it is important for me to be willing to spend time with them, because it sends both to them and to those caring for them a message about the value that I believe dementia suffererers have as human persons, capable of loving and capable of being loved.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Bravo Pope Benedict

BBC news reporting here. Interesting to note the change in language from first reports on BBC Radio news yesterday evening - along the lines of the Pope supporting discrimination against .. - to the wording in this morning's reports, which are more careful in referring to the Pope's criticism of the legislative situation in the UK and his case that in some respects it breaks the natural law.

Daily Telegraph reporting here. The Archbishop of Cardiff's press conference remarks as reported here do not appear particularly perceptive or to the point.

The Times reporting here.


Monday 1 February 2010

Bishops of England and Wales: ad limina visit

From Archbishop Nichol's address to the Holy Father during the general audience of the Bishops of England and Wales with Pope Benedict XVI (added emphasis is mine):
We thank you, too, for your constant encouragement to us through the initiatives of the Year of St Paul and the Year for Priests. In our different dioceses we have built on these invitations both in the deeper appreciation of the Word of God and of the gift of the Eucharist. At this time we appreciate your concern for the dignity and reverence with which the Mass is celebrated. This is a central part of the life of every priest and bishop and we are committed to constant effort in this regard. In particular the new translations of the Roman Missal offer us an opportune moment to deepen our appreciation of the Mass. Through catechesis we can renew our reception of the richness of the Church’s faith through the ages which, in faithfulness, is now handed on to us in these texts.
And from the address of the Holy Father (again, the added emphases are mine):
Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth....

If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.
The reference to the breaching of natural law by proposed equalities legislation has, I think, interesting implications, suggesting that they should be resisted as a matter of defence of human rights. The reference to recognising dissent for what it is has, I think, a clear reference to some recent developments!

Another interesting aspect of Pope Benedict's address is the extent to which it refers to and draws on the teaching/example of Cardinal John Henry Newman. I think we should clearly expect this to be the leit-motif of the forthcoming visit to Britain by the Pope. He also makes reference to the signs of a living Catholic faith in Britain - his examples being quite interesting: the enthusiasm surrounding the visit of the relics of St Therese, the interest in the forthcoming beatification of Cardinal Newman and the enthusiasm of young people to take part in pilgrimages and the World Youth Days.

As usual, I encourage you to read the whole text of both addresses, which you can do by following the links in the text above. My quotation from Archbishop Nichols is accurate, and not misleading, but I do suggest that you read the whole to put it into the context of a wider range of questions to which Archbishop Nichols refers.